Conflict Resolution- A Process

Rebecca Salisbury
Oct 15, 2015 01:42 PM
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Conflict Resolution: A Process

By Cathy Olson, Business Consultant, AgStar Financial Services

And Rebecca Salisbury, Cooper Norman CPAs and Business Advisiors


 The fact that conflict exists is not a bad thing.  Resolving conflict effectively can lead to both personal and professional growth.  Awareness of a situation is expanded and individuals can gain insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of others.  Resolution brings cohesion, mutual respect, and a renewed drive to work together.  However, if conflict is not handled effectively, conflicting goals can turn into personal dislike and a break down of the team.


The dictionary defines “conflict” as “a struggle to resist or overcome; contest of opposing forces or powers; a painful tension set up by a clash between opposed and contradictory impulses”. Simply put, conflict could be defined as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.


Conflict can stem from a variety of causes, and understanding them is the first step in dealing with it effectively.  Some common reasons may include lack of trust, an existing unresolved disagreement, miscommunication, various personalities, ego issues, underlying tensions, or combinations of the above.


 People tend to respond on the basis of their perceptions of the situation or the perceived threat facing them rather than the true area of disagreement.  Therefore, any efforts to resolve the conflict must begin with discovering the true source of disagreement. Conflict resolution is “a range of processes aimed at alleviating or eliminating sources of conflict”. Developing a conflict resolution can be useful for effectively managing conflict in your family and in your workplace.  It won’t guarantee an agreement but it greatly improves the likelihood that the problems can be understood, solutions explored, and negotiated agreement can occur within a constructive environment.


The following steps outline a conflict resolution process.


  1. Create an Effective Atmosphere
    1. Choose a time that is best for all parties.  Pick a place where all parties can feel comfortable and at ease.
    2. Personal preparation
      1. Calm yourself.  Take a deep breath and relax.  This clears your mind and models control.
    3. Generate and/or restore order: 
      1. Generate "Ground Rules"
        1. One person speaks at a time
        2. Commit to listen to one another
        3. Commit to understanding before responding
        4. Commit to confidentiality
        5. Talk directly with the person involved rather than seeking an ally or creating gossip
        6. Attack the issues, not the person/people
      2. Use time-outs
        1. Stop a "fight" that is damaging the process
    4. Hear the story:
      1. Clarify each party's perception of the conflict. Ask questions to get to the heart of the issues. Clean up misconceptions by gethering information to defuse tension.
    5. Listen first and talk second:
      1. Make eye contact and don’t interrupt.  Honor the individual’s need to be heard.  Use paraphrasing to assure understanding.  Encourage the other person to share his/her issues by using statements such as “I want to understand what is upsetting you.”  Reflect feelings; “I can understand how upsetting that is.”  Validate the concerns; “ I really appreciate that we are talking about this issue”.  Try to understand the problem and the other person’s goals while keeping the conversation objective rather than personal.  Be forgiving.  Recognize that it takes courage on the part of all parties: It takes courage to honestly and clearly articulate one’s  needs and it takes courage to sit down and listen to one’s  adversaries.
    6.  Agree on what the problem truly is:
      1. Often underlying needs, interests, and goals can cause people to perceive problems differently.
    7. Generate Options: 
      1. Break the problem into more manageable elements. Deal with one issue at a time.  Avoid “tangents”; “Earlier we were discussing issue A, but now I hear you raising another concern”.
      2. Look for common threads.  Try brainstorming options by writing them down and narrowing down the list.  Look at all ideas while deferring judgment and focus on ones that meet one or more of the shared needs.  Make sure options are workable for all parties.
    8. Agree on a solution and develop “doables”:
      1. This moves the options to resolution and brings closure.  Use the ideas that have the best chance of success.  Generate actions that meet shared needs and build trust.
    9. Mutual benefit agreements and test for satisfaction: 
      1. Ask – “Are you sure this will work for you?”  This should give you lasting solutions to specific conflicts.  Focus on agreements rather than demands.  Find shared goals and needs.  Create stepping stone solutions to move to mutual benefits.  Recognize the compromises or “givens”.  Assure clear communication.


Often our response to conflict during times of stress is to ignore it and hope it goes away because there is no time to meet about it or create new procedures.  This dooms us to repeat the same errors rather than learn from opportunities.  It is important to realize that all families and all businesses will experience some level of conflict.  The danger of leaving the conflict unresolved could result in business disruption or family discord.  Using a conflict resolution process will create a higher likelihood of successfully addressing and moving past these conflicts in a manner that will enhance family harmony and business operations.   Businesses and families need to have systems for dealing with disputes put in place during times of harmony so they can be implemented during times of stress.  Does your family/business have channels for expressing problems and concerns that are safe and effective?



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