Conflict resolution: Five simple tips for handling a difficult situation

When in conflict, communicate clearly and let the person know that you really understand their point of view.

We all experience conflict at one time or another and when we do, it is not necessary for both parties to agree for a resolution to be attained. But each person does need to know that their position is truly understood by the opposing party.

When approaching a person with whom you may be in conflict, the first step toward a mutual resolution is to identity these five items. Then verbalize them in conversation and experience a smoother transition toward resolving the problem. Try it!

  1. Facts: State only the data that you know to be true, not your feelings, but the truths about the situation, recognizing that your interpretations may not be correct.
  2. Impact: Describe how the situation is affecting you emotionally or otherwise. Be sure to avoid accusations.
  3. Desired outcome: Explain what would you like to see happen.
  4. Question: Ask how the other person sees the situation and really listen to their response.
  5. Paraphrase, probe and reframe: Respond in your own words what you think they said and ask if you understand their perspective correctly.

Let’s examine a simple conflict to see how this works.Your spouse would like to eat at a restaurant that you believe serves only high-fat entrees. You on the other hand, would like to eat at the new vegetarian restaurant that has received rave reviews for their “low-fat, varied and delicious” menu.

  1. Facts: “As I see this, you and I both want to go out to eat at a restaurant. You prefer XX restaurant and I prefer the new vegetarian restaurant. I read that the new vegetarian restaurant has a ‘low fat, varied and delicious menu.’”
  2. Impact: “I have been focusing on healthy eating and am afraid I may be tempted to order something that I will regret and feel bad about later.”
  3. Desired Outcome: “I want to go out to dinner with you at a restaurant that has food that we will feel good about eating and both enjoy.”
  4. Question: “Is this what you want, too?” Your spouse may respond by saying “I don’t care where we eat, just as long as I can get a ‘real’ meal, something that sticks to my bones. Not rabbit food.”
  5. Paraphrase, probe and reframe: “I hear you say that it is important to eat at a restaurant that serves more than just greens. You don’t care where we eat, as long as it has ‘real food’. Is having meat on the menu a deciding factor for you?”

In Step 5, opposing parties continue to clarify and strive to truly understand each other’s perspective. Depending on the situation, it may take more than one or two rounds of paraphrasing, probing and reframing to reach a point of genuine understanding, but when it does occur both parties are well on their way toward resolving the conflict.

For more information about how to work through conflict, Michigan State University Extension is offering an online course Conflict Smoothies for non-profit organizations and agencies. For more information on conflict resolution and the free online course, see the article “Understand your conflict management style to resolve conflict more effectively."

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