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Conflict Resolution

Even if you have the best intentions, you may disagree with others. This may lead to a conflict where both of you feel angry, upset, misunderstood or helpless. The following suggestions may help you resolve differences so that you may continue with a relationship effectively.

Truths of Conflict Resolution

  • Conflict is both natural and inevitable.
  • Perspectives are neither right nor wrong.
  • There are many ways to manage conflicts.
  • Everyone needs control, respect, fairness, and space.
  • We often have the ability to influence others, but we rarely have the ability to control them.

Types of Conflicts

  • Intrapersonal – A conflict within a person such as a moral dilemma or making a decision.
  • Interpersonal – A conflict between two or more people. For example, siblings might disagree about using the car, a boyfriend might argue with a girlfriend, or a co-worker might be difficult to work with.
  • Intragroup – A conflict between individuals in a group. For example, a club raising money might not be able to agree about how to allocate the money.
  • Intergroup – A conflict between groups. For example, two clubs might dispute who gets to use a particular facility for an event.

Aspects of Conflict

Negative Aspects

  • Conflict can lead to negative feelings between the parties involved.
  • Conflict can lead individuals or groups to close themselves off from one another, which sets a bad precedent for future contacts.
  • Conflict can waste time and energy if individuals use poor conflict resolution styles.

Positive Aspects

  • Conflict forces the parties involved to examine a problem and work toward a solution.
  • Conflict can help people to gain both new information and new perspectives, and can force us to explore new ideas.
  • When conflict occurs in groups, working together to solve a problem can increase group cohesiveness.
  • The desire both to confront and to solve a problem indicates concern, commitment, and a desire to preserve the relationship.

Making it Better or Worse

Conflict usually escalates when

  • Bystanders become involved and take sides.
  • One or both parties feels threatened by the other.
  • There is no interest or investment in maintaining the relationship.
  • The acting out of anger, fear, or frustration (indirect expression) increases.
  • Those involved do not acknowledge or meet important needs.

Conflict usually decreases when

  • Those involved focus on the problem instead of each other.
  • Those involved express emotions of anger, fear and frustration directly rather than demonstrating them indirectly.
  • There are no threats to those involved.
  • Those involved openly discuss and acknowledge their needs.

Conflict Management Styles


When you use the controlling style, you manage conflict by hard bargaining or in terms of “might makes right.” Someone whose conflict management style is controlling pursues personal concerns at another’s expense. If you conflict with someone of who uses the controlling conflict management style, you may need to stand up for your rights, defend a position which you believe is correct, or simply try to win. The controlling style of conflict management works well when you need to act quickly or when you believe you are correct. On the other hand, the controlling style of conflict management intimidates people, and they may be afraid either to admit to problems or to give you important information.


When you use the collaborating style, you manage conflict by negotiating and may believe that two heads are better than one. When collaborating you work with others to explore their disagreement, generate alternatives, and find a mutually satisfying solution. The collaborating style of conflict management allows you to learn from another’s perspective. It can be helpful when you need a decision that addresses both parties’ concerns. On the other hand, the collaborating style of conflict management may be unsuitable either for minor decisions or when time is limited.


When you use the compromising style, you manage conflict by splitting the difference so that the solution partially satisfies both parties. The compromising style of conflict management is useful when other styles fail, for fast decision-making on minor disagreements, or when two equally strong parties commit to mutually exclusive goals. On the other hand, the compromising style of conflict management may cause you to lose sight of larger issues and values and may not please everyone.


When you use the accommodating style, you manage conflict by soft bargaining or “killing your enemy with kindness.” When you use the accommodating style, you yield to another person’s point of view and pay attention to his or her concerns while neglecting your own. The accommodating style is useful when you see that you are wrong or when harmony is most important to you. However, if you use the accommodating style, others may not address your concerns.


When you use the Avoiding style, you manage conflict by leaving well enough alone or by not addressing the conflict. You may either withdraw from the situation or postpone confrontation. The Avoiding style of conflict is useful when confrontation may be dangerous or damaging, when an issue is unimportant, or when a situation needs to cool down, or when you need more time to prepare. On the other hand, if you use the Avoiding style of conflict management, issues may go unaddressed.

Improving Conflict Skills

Once you have determined your goal and your conflict management style, you may now wonder how you can resolve the conflict as you planned. Conflict resolution is highly dependent upon good communication skills. Active listening results in effective communication and conflict resolution.

Communication Obstacles

  • Ordering someone to think or do something
  • Threatening
  • Preaching or lecturing
  • Judging
  • Providing unsolicited advice or solutions
  • Forcing your opinions on someone

Communication Catalysts

  • Open-mindedness
  • Accepting different opinions as valid
  • Seeing others as equals with equal rights to be heard
  • Showing empathy and respect
  • Listening both carefully and actively

Conflict Resolution Process

Before the confrontation, ask yourself

  • What are my specific concerns?
  • How does the conflict affect me?
  • What is important to me?
  • What would improve the situation for me?

During the confrontation set the tone

  • State positive intentions and have a positive attitude.
  • Acknowledge and validate the other party.
  • Discuss and define the problem.
    • Take turns. Make sure each party both speaks and listens actively.
    • Identify each side’s interests and needs.
    • Discuss assumptions, suspicions, and values if necessary.

Summarize new understandings

Brainstorm alternative solutions

  • Determine the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution, and consider their consequences.
  • Be realistic.
  • Choose solutions that satisfy all parties.
  • Make sure the solutions are specific, balanced and fair.

Plan for follow-up to make sure the solutions are working for everyone.