So while we may agree that the collaborative method appears to be the most positive, finding a satisfactory resolution is often easier said than done. This is where the skill aspect of conflict resolution comes into play. In what follows, we will discuss four examples of different methods you might employ to achieve a positive result for all involved. These are not the only possible methods, but may provide you with a good place to start.
As long as people battle over opposing solutions – “No, that’s no good! Do it my way!” – the conflict remains little more than a power struggle. What we can do in this situation is change the agenda to one which attempts to find the best solution for both parties. This, of course, is the win-win strategy – where you are interested in both parties obtaining a positive result. The problem is how to achieve this result.
One good tactic is to go back to needs.
Strategies for clarifying each party’s underlying needs include asking questions such as; “Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?”, “What values are important to you here?”, “What’s the outcome or result you want?”.
The answers to these questions can significantly alter the course of the discussion. They give both parties the materials they need to start problem solving in a co-operative manner. It also ensures that you both get to express what it is you need from the situation.
Addressing each person’s underlying needs is important because it means you build solutions that acknowledge and value those needs, rather than denying them. This will help both parties to feel that they have been respected and they may also feel as if they now understand the other better. The Win/Win Approach is certainly ethical, but the reason for its great success is that IT WORKS. When both people win, both are tied to the solution. They feel committed to the plan because it actually suits them.
It’s a successful strategy. Usually, co-operation can result in both people getting more of what they want. The Win/Win Approach is Conflict Resolution for mutual gain.
2. Creative Response
The Creative response to conflict is about turning problems into possibilities. It is about consciously choosing to see what can be done, how things can move forward, rather than staying stuck in recriminations or blame games. Responding to conflict creatively affirms that you will choose to extract the best from the situation.
The creative approach focuses on being more aware of the way our attitudes colour our thoughts. Usually we are quite unaware of how our attitudes shape the way we see the world. Two dramatically contrasting attitudes in life are “Perfection” versus “Discovery”. Let’s call them attitude “hats”. What “hat” do you get dressed in each day? The Perfection hat says: “Is this good enough or not?” (Usually not!) “Does this meet my impeccably high standards?”. While the Discovery hat will say: “How fascinating! What are the possibilities here?”
Being overly concerned with perfection can lead to seeing life as a permanent struggle where mistakes are unacceptable. It is easy to become judgmental, because it may often seem that there is only one way to do things – the ‘right’ way. This can be difficult for others around you, but can also mean you place undue pressure on yourself. The search for perfection means there can only ever be either winners or losers.
Approaching the world with an interest in discoveries rather than perfection can mean that you are more enthusiastic about exploring new possibilities. It is easier to take risks and look at things from a variety of angles because you are not interested in being right but rather learning something new. Focusing on discovery means that there are no absolute losses, instead there are winners and learners.
If there are no failures, only learning, your self-esteem and that of those around you can get a big boost. It also means that you can approach conflicts with the attitude – another challenge – how fascinating. This means that you can begin to ask questions about what can be done differently, how else could this be approached, what other solutions will meet these underlying needs. In order to do this you have to be able to occasionally make mistakes. But life doesn’t have to be about winning and losing – it can be about learning.
With this attitude conflict becomes welcomed as an interesting opportunity.
Empathy is about rapport and openness between people. When it is absent, people are less likely to consider your needs and feelings.
The best way to build empathy is to help the other person feel that they are understood. That means being an active listener.
Listening strategies for different situations
This listening strategy focuses on getting a clear picture – it is often called active listening. The speaker aims to get across what is wanted so there is no confusion, while the listener focuses on gathering information and confirming that they have understood correctly. The listener will try to find out about needs, instructions, background information, but will also ask for clarification about issues the speaker has forgotten to mention. The listener should focus entirely on the other person and try to ignore their own objections, disagreements or anger. You are trying to get a clearer picture of what the other person thinks, not what you think they think.
This listening strategy develops empathy within conflict situations, focuses on affirming, acknowledging and exploring the problem. The aim of the speaker is to talk about the problem at hand, while the aim of the listener is to acknowledge the speaker’s feelings and to help them hear what they are saying. Here you are recognising that the other person would be helped by you taking time to hear their problem.
A third listening strategy involves responding to a complaint or attack on you. In this case, the aim of the speaker will be to tell you that you are the problem. However your aim will be to let the speaker know you’ve taken in what they are saying and to defuse the strong emotion. Here you are choosing the most useful response when someone is telling you they are unhappy with you, criticising you, complaining about you, or just simply yelling.
Four steps make up this strategy;
– Don’t defend yourself or start justifying
Instead you can acknowledge that the situation has got out of hand and you may need to change your approach.
– Deal first with the speaker’s emotions
People shout because they don’t think they are being heard. Make sure they know they are – that you are hearing how angry or upset they are.
– Acknowledge their side
This does not mean you agree with them, only that you are registering their viewpoint e.g. “I can see, if you think that was my attitude, why you are so angry”, “I can see why the problem makes you so upset”.
– Draw them out further
Once the heat is out of the conversation, you might say how it is for you without denying how it is for them. Ask what could be done now to make it OK again. If they heat up again, go back to Active Listening. Move towards options for change or solution. Ask what they want now.
4. Appropriate Assertiveness
The fourth method of conflict resolution involves learning when to use “I” Statements. The essence of Appropriate Assertiveness is being able to state your case without arousing the defences of the other person. The secret of success lies in sharing your opinion rather than forcing your ideas of what people should or shouldn’t do. Attaching the phrase – “the way I see it…” – to your assertive statements can help.
A skilled “I” statement goes even further.
When you want to state your point of view helpfully, the “I” statement formula can be useful. An “I” statement says how it is on my side, how I see it. You could waste inordinate quantities of brainpower debating how the other person will or won’t respond. Don’t! You do need to be sure that you haven’t used inflaming language, which would be highly likely to cause a negative response i.e. it should be “clean”. Because you don’t know beforehand whether the other person will do what you want or not, the cleanest “I” statements are delivered not to force the other person to fix things, but to state what you need.
Use an “I” statement when you need to let the other person know you are feeling strongly about the issue. Others often underestimate how hurt or angry or put out you are, so it’s useful to say exactly what’s going on for you- making the situation appear neither better nor worse i.e. your “I” statement should be “clear”.
The next time someone shouts at you and you don’t like it, resist the temptation to withdraw rapidly (maybe slamming the door on the way out). Resist the temptation to shout back to stop the onslaught, and deal with your own rising anger.
This is the time for Appropriate Assertiveness. Take a deep breath. Stay centred, feet firmly planted on the ground, and make an “I” statement, with the following three ingredients:
1. When… [I hear a voice raised at me]
2. I feel… [humiliated]
3. And what I’d like is that … [I can debate an issue with you without ending up feeling hurt.]
The best “I” statement is free of expectations. It is delivering a clean, clear statement of how it is from your side and how you would like it to be.