Having conducted quite a few conflict resolutions sessions and facilitating the understanding of the topic to many, I mustered up some tips from all my reading and exposure that I use in my facilitation sessions.

Let’s start with a definition, of which there are many. Mine says “Conflict is a process that begins when an individual or group perceives differences and opposition between itself and another group or individual about interest and resources, beliefs, values or practices that matter to them”.

As conflict resolution is collaborative in its theory and practice, it requires those experiencing conflict to adopt a less adversarial attitude and rather a problem-solving one. In order to do so, these few tips and methods provided will enable each party to navigate and facilitate the conflict they are experiencing effectively.


1. Step back and slow down

Most of us repeat unhelpful behaviours in conflicts because we are unaware of what we are doing. We can only change habits through awareness, open up and sit in the uncomfortable space of awareness. Plan what you want to say to avoid saying something that will escalate a conflict.

2. Be clear about your intentions and goals for the conversation

If your most important goal is to win, blame or change the other party, the conflict will probably escalate, no matter what skills you use. If your intention is to blame or change others, you don’t learn how to prevent the problem from repeating itself. Only begin a conversation about a conflict in order to learn something new, express your views and feelings, or to problem-solve.

3. Listen first to understand—ask questions to explore the other person’s story

If others feel listened to, they are more likely to try to understand. Leverage for change comes from understanding, not from convincing them you are right. It is rare for people to feel truly listened to and still experience the conflict as negative. Be aware of your internal barriers to really listening, such as thinking you are right or have strong feelings about the subject matter.

4. Express strong feelings without blame

Strong feelings make it impossible for us to really listen. Use “I-statements” to express what you’re feeling. Be sure to state a feeling (as opposed to a judging statement) after saying “I feel”. Be sure to carefully describe the other party’s behaviour without adding evaluations to it. The key is to be completely honest without blaming the other.

5. Be aware of how your own self-image might make you more defensive

Avoid an all or nothing, black and white view of yourself—in this way you will become more open to feedback.

6. Take responsibility for your assumptions

Be willing to let go of your interpretation—believing that our beliefs and conclusions about others are “the truth” creates a lot of conflict. Share with others what you see as the raw data and how you interpret it (your thought process). When others speak about their conclusions, ask how they came to those conclusions.

7. Find common ground

Be sure to note areas of agreement, as well as areas of disagreement. Identifying the areas of agreement reduces defensiveness.

8. Explore what is most important to the other person (by listening and asking questions out of curiosity)

People do not usually enter a conflict by stating what is most important to them. You can only problem solve if you know what the other person really wants. People usually enter a conflict with only one solution (theirs) to a problem.

9. Let go of the myths about conflict

Conflict is not a contest—don’t make it one. Conflict is not always negative.

10. Remember the four principal approaches to conflict

Acknowledge the conflict. If you resist, they will push even harder. To acknowledge does not mean to agree. Be willing to change.

11. When initiating a conversation about a conflict

Ask the other party if they are willing to have a conversation. Tell them the topic and the importance of the conversation to you, as a means of maintaining a good relationship. Allow them to save face.

12. Be open to learning new information

A trust deficit develops when conflict arises, so we need to build our trust account. Stephan Covey likens this to the following; “An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.  When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”

-Written by Donavon Goliath

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