Conflict Resolution 101
Most of us will do absolutely anything to avoid having awkward conversations and to stay as far away from confrontation as humanely possible. Unfortunately, conflict is just a part of daily living, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. It’s impossible for us all to agree on absolutely everything and it’s also impossible to breeze through life without falling out with your best mate, hitting rock bottom with your bub or having a complete and utter breakdown of communication with your family.
There’s also a growing amount of evidence to show that some of the skills we’re going to share in this piece can be great ways at tackling bullying. We’ve put together the ultimate guide on conflict resolution to help you tackle bullying head-on and to patch up that fall out that’s playing on your mind. The techniques will also help you become better at negotiating and will help you avoid further conflict.
Get a notepad and take notes. Here are the 16 things you need to know about conflict resolution:
1. Know what it is first
Conflict resolution is all about finding a peaceful solution to a problem between 2 or more people. Conflict resolution can be used to resolve a massive range of issues – from war and corruption to divorce, bullying and breakdowns in communication.
2. Assess risk
Sometimes it isn’t appropriate to do the conflict resolution yourself. If the person causing you distress has a history of violence or aggressive behaviour and confrontation could put you at risk, then explore other options. If you feel like you could safely speak to the person directly, read on…
3. Address your fears
Know that the idea of conflict resolution at first can be absolutely terrifying and intimidating, but please don’t let it deter you. Know that most of us find confrontation uncomfortable and do remember that there is a strong chance that this will help you solve conflict.
4. Structure your conversation
Before you have your conversation, make sure you are familiar with how you’d like to structure it. An example is below:
- Request the conversation. Ex: “Hey Tom, I wondered if we could chat for a minute about something I have on my mind?”
- Establish an outcome: “It would be great if we could figure out a better way of talking with each other”
- Say your peace: “You called me gay in gym class. I’m not gay and it made me feel embarrassed. I’ve been worried about it. Did I do something to upset you?”
- Allow them to talk. Remain calm and receptive.
- Negotiate and agree on a solution.
- Thank them for talking to you about it.
5. Get neutral
Conflict resolution works best when it is done in a neutral setting, like a public park, coffee shop or empty classroom. Sometimes it may be beneficial to have strangers around to prevent it turning into a huge argument, but that’s up to you.
6. It ain’t a group activity
In order to be effective, the conversation needs to either be facilitated by a trained mediator or should be just between you and the person you have issues with. This is not a point scoring exercise or a way to prove who is right and who is wrong, so don’t allow a group dynamic to influence the process.
7. DON’T SHOUT
Nothing ever got resolved by shouting. Seriously, can you think of anything that shouting ever resolved? Not really. If the other person starts to shout, no matter how angry or tempted you are, don’t do it. Stop talking and wait until they’ve stopped. Tell them you don’t want to argue and talk to them as you normally would. If they keep on shouting, suggest a break or consider ending the session.
8. Take bullet points
At first, it’s likely that you will be nervous and stressed. These feelings will pass, but can temporarily cloud your mind. This is why it’s a good idea to write down a few bullet points of things you’d like to tell the other person before you meet with them. If you feel more comfortable, you could even write a few paragraphs of things you’d like to say and read it out to them. Be honest and tell them that the conversation makes you nervous because it’s important to you. Unless they have deeply rooted issues, it is likely that sharing something vulnerable with them will encourage them to drop their guard and be more receptive to you.
9. Don’t be personal
You’ve lost the moment you say something to purposely insult the other person. Conflict resolution isn’t a fancy way to argue, the whole point of the process is to resolve conflict.
10. Be objective
A good structure of conversation is to first talk about the observation, then the impact and then what needs to change/ask why. Ex: ’You called me fat in front of the class, it made me feel embarrassed and upset and I’d like it if you didn’t do that again’.
11. Focus on an outcome
Mutually agree on an outcome at the start of the session and do refer to it should the conversation start to detract… for example, if you’ve fallen out with your best mate and they’ve been talking about you behind your back, a good outcome would be something that isn’t blaming, something like ‘We’d like to figure out what went wrong and rebuild our friendship.’
12. Repeat language back
It is likely that the other person will feel defensive at first. A great and subtle way of encouraging them to lower their barriers is to start using some of the same language. They likely won’t consciously realise it, but subconsciously they will interpret it as you both have similar ways of communicating.
13. Talk and listen
Listen as much as you are talking. A good conflict resolution session is balanced and a safe space for people to talk openly and honestly about how they feel. If you are using conflict resolution to resolve a bullying-related issue, keep in mind that often people bully others because they have deeper issues that they aren’t coping with properly.
Be prepared to negotiate, but never allow anybody to make you feel as if your emotions aren’t valid. If you’re feeling it, it’s real and you are entitled to feel upset or angry for example. If you’re being bullied, never take ownership of your own abuse. Do be receptive to what the person has to say though and try to be respectful, even if deep down you feel as though you hate the person and how they have treated you.
15. Know when to end
If the other person is unresponsive, know when to end the conversation and to try a different resolution tactic.
Regardless of the outcome, learning conflict resolution skills is an invaluable process. This situation is temporary and not everybody is mature enough to have an open and honest conversation. Good luck!