Managing conflict: Three key components

Preserve the relationship, create safety and develop a shared purpose.

The ability to communicate well with others is vital to interpersonal success and managing conflict is about communicating in a way that builds and maintains positive relationships. A workshop taught by the Leadership and Community Engagement Team at Michigan State University Extension, highlights three components to aide communication when one is facing a conflict:

  1. Preserve the Relationship – Preservation of the relationship is the first item to keep in mind when facing a conflict situation. One way to approach this is to establish the facts, without attaching judgement or assumptions. Facts are not always easy to determine or to agree upon because we all make assumptions based on preconceived notions. Stating the facts, explaining the outcome you’d like and asking the other person to share their view about the situation are elements of the first key component to preserving the relationship and managing a conflict.
  2. Create Safety – Many of us are familiar with the fight or flight response, a reaction that occurs when someone feels threatened. Avoiding fight or flight and creating a safe environment for continued dialogue is the next item to keep in mind when facing a conflict situation. After stating the facts and asking the other person’s point-of-view about the situation, to maintain a safe environment, listen, really listen – without judgement or assumptions. Active listening skills such as probing, restating, paraphrase and reframing are useful. Knowing that you really want to understand someone’s perspective, keeps the conversation safe. Do you know how to tell when someone has really been understood? It’s when they say, “YES….that IS what I mean!”
  3. Develop a Shared Purpose – In a stressful and sometimes polarized society we are often compelled to resolve issues quickly. When in conflict however, there are good reasons to preserve the relationship, create safety and develop a shared purpose, before brainstorming a resolution. Without identifying the facts and understanding each other’ points-of-view, the relationship suffers, some voices have not been heard, participants may feel afraid to say more and unspoken resentment begins to breed. To develop a shared purpose and avoid unspoken resentment, identify each other’s interests - why one wants what they want - and try to find a shared purpose. A question to pose might be, “How can we achieve both what you want AND what I want?” and then brainstorm solutions.

These three components can be used to communicate through conflict in a way that builds and maintains positive relationships. It is a process that allows for open and honest sharing of concerns and meaningful resolutions. More information about conflict resolution may be found on the MSU Extension website.

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