Communication and Conflict Management
It is important to realise that conflict is an inevitable part of life. It can occur with any type of interaction – with partners, families, friends, colleagues, casual acquaintances or even strangers. While conflict can cause hostility and resentment, interestingly, it is not necessarily a bad thing. If handled well, conflict can be constructive, ultimately resulting in greater understanding, appreciation and even closeness. Whatever the relationship type is between the two parties, whether the conflict is healthy or unhealthy, doesn’t depend on the number of conflicts but how these are handled and resolved.
Healthy and unhealthy ways of managing and resolving conflict
We all know that conflict triggers strong emotions and can be uncomfortable. If conflict is handled in an unhealthy manner, it can lead to irreparable rifts and resentments. Conversely, if conflict is resolved in a healthy way, it can help us understand one another, build trust and actually strengthen relationships.
Unhealthy responses to conflict include:
- Being unable to recognise or respond to issues that are important to the other person
- Responding in an angry, resentful or hurtful way or using blame
- Withdrawing love, rejecting, isolating or shaming
- Avoiding and fearing conflict
- Expecting conflict to end badly
- Trying to “win” or always having to get your own way
- Always surrendering to avoid or deny conflict
- Using fear, power or influence
Healthy responses to conflict include:
- Recognising and responding to issues that are important to the other person
- A desire to forgive and forget
- Seeking to compromise rather than to punish
- A belief that resolution can be found
- Remaining open to and respectful of the other person’s opinion while being authentic, asserting your own views
Role of Communication in Conflict Management
A healthy relationship is often characterised by both parties being able to show up authentically and negotiate in ways that result in a win-win outcome. They typically communicate desires, wants, feelings and perceptions with each other in a safe way. When conflict does arise, communication plays a big role in finding a mutually desirable resolution.
Ways to communicate that minimise conflict:
Be very clear and straightforward about your expectations – don’t expect people to simply understand your wishes.
If communicating with a group of people don’t merely depend on verbal communication – use email to keep a record and ensure everyone is in the loop. And never ignore or neglect certain members.
Be aware of the pitch and tone of your voice – try to remain polite and be a good listener.
Don’t assume things or overreact to petty issues – and remember everyone has the right to express their views and be listened to so avoid interrupting.
If conflict arises use these techniques:
The Defusing Technique: Try to find some value in the opposing point of view. This doesn’t mean compromising your principles but validating the other’s position so that you can reach resolution.
Empathy: Try to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and see the situation from their point of view.
Exploration: Ask questions to understand the other person’s opinions or feelings.
Use “I” Statements: Admit and accept your thoughts and feelings instead of blaming the other person. This will decrease the chance of the other person becoming defensive.
Stroking: Be respectful and identify some positives about the other person.
Role of Attitude in Conflict Management
Attitude plays a very important role in conflict management. Try to maintain a positive attitude towards work and life. It helps to be flexible – don’t always assume that the other person is at fault. Keep calm, check your emotions and don’t overreact to small things. Above all, seek an outcome that is mutually beneficial.
Communication roadblocks occur when two people talk in a way that results in neither person feeling understood. There are four particular styles of communication that are counterproductive to conflict resolution.
- Criticism – personal attacks and put downs.
- Contempt – lack of respect, such as eye rolling, name-calling or sarcasm.
- Defensiveness – this escalates the conflict as we stop listening to the other’s viewpoint
- Stonewalling – refusing to engage in discussion. In other words, the “silent treatment”.
Other communication blockers include
- Agreeing, just to keep the peace
Behaving in this way does not promote healthy conflict resolution and can often lead to an escalation of the conflict.
Tips to Resolve Conflict
- First of all, set ground rules including remaining calm and taking turns speaking.
- Identify the Problem. Try to see both sides. The aim is to express what you want and listen to the other person’s wishes.
- Come Up With Several Possible Solutions. This is the brainstorming phase.
- Evaluate The Alternative Solutions. List the pros and cons of the solutions and on one or two that are the best.
- Choose the Best Solution. Find one that seems satisfactory to everyone – it doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Apply the Solution. Agreeing on the details and individual roles is important.
- Regularly appraise the Solution. It should be seen as a work in progress.
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