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Work out Conflict

This is the essence of conflict: trying to get the other person to see it your way. People fight over anything - from the stupid to the serious. Misunderstandings and conflict happen even in the best of relationships. Unless you do something positive, conflict between two people can grow and affect others as well.

Steps to resolving conflict:

  • Establish mutual respect. Try to understand and accept the other's point of view without making judgments about it. Treat each other as equals, where the tone of voice is caring and the vocabulary communicates an interest and concern in relating effectively. Listen to what the other person is really saying.
  • Identify the real issue. Often, in a heated argument, the topic being discussed, or argued, is often not the real issue. You may be discussing the color of the walls, the time of day that an event should occur, or a division of responsibilities. The real issue, however, involves beliefs and purposes.

    Example: For their four years of marriage, Mark and Sharon have gone to Mark's parents for the holidays, and visit them at their summer home. This year Sharon wants to visit her family for the holidays. Mark believes they've established a tradition and it will cause problems if they don't go as usual. Sharon says it's unfair, and a fight ensues. Mark and Sharon are locked in a struggle for power. Until they recognize this, no solution to the conflict will occur. They need to respect each other's feelings and search for common ground. Once they truly listen to each other, then they are in a position to generate alternatives which could meet both their needs.

  • Seek areas of agreement. When people enter the conflict, they start with an agreement - they've agreed to fight. Conflict takes cooperation - no one can fight without an opponent. The goal is to change the agreement from fighting to positive cooperation by seeking new areas of agreement. They can begin by asking, "What can I do to make the relationship more cooperative and agreeable?" Search for an idea, topic, or belief that you agree on.
  • Mutually participate in decision-making. After you have identified the issues and areas of agreement and disagreement, the next step involves developing a tentative solution. Brainstorm ideas, no matter how far-fetched they seem at the moment. Review all the proposed solutions and work toward a mutually acceptable one.
  • Articulate the bottom line. Once the solution or agreement is reached, there needs to be a clear identification of your role in carrying out the mutually agreed upon decision and deciding what is to be done if you or the other person does not follow through. When you both participate in the conflict resolution, you can develop agreements acceptable to both of you and in line with your shared or common goals. The problem is mutual, the solution must be mutually acceptable, too.

Gary McKay, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Tucson, Ariz., and director of Communication Motivation and Training Institute-West.

Don Dinkmeyer, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and director of Communication Motivation and Training Institute in Florida.

Drs. McKay and Dinkmeyer are co-authors of several books, including the three-million copy bestseller, STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.



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