A definition from the wise folks at Merriam-Webster:
resolution (noun) : the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc. : the act of resolving something
So, conflict resolution is a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them. Simple, right? Then why do we often feel like banging our heads against a wall when dealing with differences of opinion?
Working through conflicts–whether at home or work—can be stressful and taxing. Sometimes you’re dealing with a three-year-old. Other times, it just feels like it. And, let’s face it… sometimes the three-year-old in the situation is us. But it doesn’t have to be this way! (Although, if it’s an actual three-year-old you’re facing, all bets are off.)
For most, the development of conflict resolution skills began at a very young age. When your sandbox playmate stole your bucket, you probably resolved the issue by snatching it back. The plastic shovel-wallop on the head you then received suggested that your handling of the situation wasn’t entirely effective. Sure, you won the battle and took back possession of your beloved bucket, but you also had a lump for the next couple of days as a reminder of what not to do.
Fast forward to 10th grade, when you and your best friend were both enamored with the same 11th grade heartthrob, who was certain to become the love of your life (not hers)… until he asked her out. You and your former BFF exchanged unpleasant words and stopped speaking for the duration of their relationship. That equated to 11 days, but felt like an eternity. At last, you made up, and swore never to let anyone or anything come between your friendship again. All was well, too, until that new transfer student arrived…
At last, you reached adulthood, which meant you’d mastered the fine art of conflict resolution through years of observation and firsthand experience. So, then, why did you find yourself driving home and replaying the minor work disagreement that had escalated to the level of hurt feelings and awkward tension? Especially when you knew better! You could feel the momentum, and you wanted to stop it, but neither of you backed down. And tomorrow you’ll have to walk back in there and face the fallout.
You are not alone! As humans, we have a strong need to be right. Sometimes this is simply ego, but more frequently, it’s a case of wanting to be certain of the right choice or best action in a given situation. Our intentions are often pure—we just want to share the knowledge that we believe to be true to make the road easier for others. However, we frequently forget (or ignore) that others are just as confident that they’re right, despite their views residing on the opposing end of the spectrum from our own. Cue the conflict.
Finding resolution can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
Try these 5 conflict resolution strategies at work and home:
• Know thyself – Disagreements require two to tango. Imagine in 1975 at the boxing match of the century, if either Mohammed Ali or Joe Frazier had not shown up. It would have made for one heck of a boring event. For a fight to occur, there has to be engagement. If one opts not to engage, the situation is diffused… or never even happens.
What is critical here is knowing yourself & the triggers that determine whether you opt to walk away or put on your gloves & duke it out. There are certainly situations that necessitate productive conversation in order to resolve an ongoing issue. But take note how often after a conflict you are left with feelings of regret over your decision to engage. Spend a few moments thinking about your last disagreement with a family member, friend, or coworker. Why did you bite? Were you feeling sleep deprived? Did someone hit your Achilles heel? Was your mind cluttered with A.N.T.s. (Automatic Negative Thoughts) when the issue arose? Do you make assumptions about this individual’s motives based on past experiences?
Now pause for a couple more minutes to think about the last time you opted to take the high road. How did you feel about your decision to prevent a minor issue from turning into anything more than a productive discussion? Did you acknowledge appreciation to the other for the positive way that he/she handled the issue? Did you allow yourself to feel gratitude for showing restraint and accountability for your own actions?
Learn the reasons & triggers that cause you to engage. Self-reflection is a powerful tool to diffuse unnecessary conflict before it arises.
• Chill out & stay present – Let’s face it, for many of us, our days produce the same feelings as attending a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese on a Saturday… stimulation overload. (If you are one of the fortunate ones who have never had this experience, just trust me on this one and consider yourself lucky). You don’t have to look much further than the surge in yoga studios and meditation centers to confirm that lots of folks are seeking ways to take their stress down a notch and stay in the present moment. These two skills—and I call them skills because they do take practice—are invaluable in conflict resolution at home or in the workplace.
It goes without saying that a state of relaxation diffuses a variety of potential conflicts. How would you react to receiving unexpected news on your cell phone while racing through the terminal to make your flight versus hearing the information on vacation as the sun is shining on your face and your feet are firmly planted in the sand? Same news, different reaction.
Relaxing and being present are like Ethel and Lucy… they go hand-in-hand. So when a potentially volatile situation presents itself, take a deep, cleansing breath–you know, the kind you learned in yoga class—and make a conscience effort to keep your mind firmly planted in the current moment. When we bring baggage from the past or the uncertain future into a disagreement, we drag in a range of emotions and feelings that can prevent us from truly listening to what the other person is saying. When your attention is in the present moment, you are able to follow the wise advice of Stephen Covey… “First, seek to understand.”
• Remember the Golden Rule – This one is pretty simple. Treat others the way you want to be treated. And this applies to your speech. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to my mom, dad, child, favorite teacher, CEO of the company, fill in the blank?” Conflict can create tension, but it doesn’t have to be disrespectful. By practicing mindful speech and taking the emotionally charged words out of your vocabulary on a daily basis, you are better equipped to treat others respectfully when situations arise where you are not seeing eye-to-eye. Your opinion is more likely to be heard and understood when you are brief, positive, and honest in the language you choose & the manner of your delivery. In other words, just be kind.
• Follow the Emperor Penguin’s lead – So Papa penguin sits on his offspring’s egg for 65 days. That is some serious time for reflection. For me personally, in the middle of conflict, I need time to pause, collect my thoughts, and make a mental shift before coming to resolution. Can you relate? I often ask for a time out. This is when I take the advice from Steve on Blue’s Clues, and I go to my Thinking Chair–a fabulous, glider rocker–and “think, think, think!”
Without a break, we can get swept up in the heat of moment, and the emotional words start to fly. We’ve all been there, and more often than not, we regret it after the fact. So next time you feel a conversation going down that path, calmly explain that in order to give the matter at hand the attention and thought it needs and deserves, you’d like to take a short break. Then go sit on that egg. I don’t recommend 65 days, but take the time you need to gain perspective on what your end goal is and what you hope to accomplish from the discussion.
• Problem solve together – You have now reached the point in your discussion where you have both been heard. You have explained your positions. You’ve put it all out on the table. And hopefully, you used your inside voices. (Can you tell I have three young boys?)
There are few things more frustrating than having a disagreement with someone who only wants to discuss what is wrong and how it cannot be fixed. It’s time to offer up solutions. If you have been thoughtfully listening to what the other person is saying, this is your chance to show them by recommending a solution that reflects their position. It also gives you an opportunity to “walk in their shoes.” When you problem solve together, one person doesn’t have to leave feeling defeated. Coming to a mutual resolution gives closure to both sides. By agreeing to a solution jointly, you each become 100% accountable on the follow-through.
Conflicts will inevitably arise at home and in the workplace. It’s how you handle the situation that matters. Differences of opinion are a healthy part of life that often bring about positive change and spark creativity. Practicing conflict resolution strategies will help you get there.