Have you ever had to use any conflict resolution strategies? If so, were they the right ones? The study and analysis of conflict have been conducted in a wide variety of areas, such as groups, institutions, communities, or nations, but here we will focus on those that take place between two people or between one person and a group.
Conflict resolution strategies
On this matter, Thomas Kilmann designed a well-known method to assess individual behavior in conflicting situations. This method describes people’s behavior along with two basic themes: interest in self and interest in others. These two basic themes of behavior can be used to define five specific conflict resolution strategies. Here, Kilmann defines interpersonal conflict as “If two or more people or groups care about things that are contradictory to each other, then the outcome is conflict.”
In interpersonal relations conflict is very common, even with those with whom we get along best, with whom we share common interests, or with whom we love the most. This is normal since human beings are social animals who need, for their survival and self-realization, to belong to a collective made up of other human beings.
For any person, this way of life requires combining their own interests as an individual with the collective interests derived from life in general. Sometimes these interests coincide, but in other cases, individual and collective needs are scarcely compatible, which leads to the emergence of conflict.
Conflict, then, is an everyday reality in people’s lives: at home, at work, in a relationship. The needs and values of individuals constantly collide against each other. Some conflicts are small and relatively easy to overcome, but others are greater and require conflict resolution strategies, because, otherwise, they create continuous tensions and personal resentments.
There are three basic ideas that we should have clear when applying conflict resolution strategies:
- There will always be conflict because conflict is inherent to human beings.
- We cannot eradicate conflict, but we can find effective strategies to manage it.
- Conflict between people is the rule, not the exception.
Since conflicts are inevitable, the most appropriate position is to accept their existence as something normal and to learn to handle them constructively. When we are accustomed to facing them we can find many advantages, because:
- The conflict develops and tests our personal and social skills.
- We have more opportunities to achieve our desires and objectives when we face the conflict as something natural.
- This way our interpersonal relations improve significantly, resulting in an increase of effective communication, mutual support and confidence, appreciation and cooperation.
- We keep positive subjective states, such as joy, self-esteem, security, confidence, comfort, relaxation, vitality or well-being.
On the other hand, if conflicts are not addressed or are poorly managed, they can produce negative feelings of anxiety, helplessness, confusion, loneliness, anger, or resentment. As well as counterproductive behaviors related to aggression, inhibition, isolation, or avoidance. Inadequate handling of conflict can also lead to the loss or deterioration of important relations as well as fewer opportunities and health problems due to stress.
Attitudes towards conflict
As is the case in any area of the interpersonal relationship, conflicts can be approached in an inhibited, aggressive or assertive way. However, before talking about behaviors in the face of the conflict it is appropriate to reflect on our attitudes in this regard.
Attitude has a lot to do with the intentions with which we face conflict and even more with our way of looking at the world, with our way of being and feeling. When we get up every morning we put on our “glasses to view the world”, that is, we look at what is happening around us, from our experience, our emotions, our beliefs… These glasses indicate what attitudes and intentions to put into practice before a conflictive situation and which ones not.
It is important to emphasize that most of us adopt different attitudes to the conflict depending on what our role is in the context of the relationship and in which that conflict occurs. We will probably not act the same in a conflict with our mother than with our partner or with a coworker or with an unknown person.
These attitudes respond to the model of the conflict by Neil Katz, another expert on the topic of conflicts who created a bi-dimensional model of the conflict similar to that of Thomas Kilmann. Katz places the different possible attitudes to the conflict according to two major axes: the commitment to the relationship and the commitment to the interests.
Hence the first reflection that we should make before a conflict would be about the following three questions:
- What is my role in this conflict regarding the other person?
- What relationship ties me to the other person?
- What interests do I intend to satisfy?
The answer to these three questions should indicate the attitude to that conflict and the strategy to follow.
1. The aggressive attitude
It is the attitude of those who perceive any conflict as a battle to be won. Therefore, the other people involved are perceived as enemies to be defeated.
Whoever maintains an aggressive position tries to achieve their goals at all costs, regardless of others’ needs (I win, you lose). For this person, giving in means losing, lowering their standards, being weak, betraying themselves, and undermining their self-esteem.
The conflict is considered a nuisance that takes place because the others do not see their position as correct and do not give in to their desires or demands. Therefore, they try to get what they want regardless of whether they have to trample on the rights or feelings of others to do so.
This approach tends to backfire, especially in the long run, because even if it sometimes achieves what you want in the short term, the other people involved will feel bad and tend to withdraw or become hostile.
2. The passive or inhibited attitude
The opposite of the aggressive attitude is the so-called “lose-win” position. It is the position of those who do not dare to cope with the conflicts because they fear the negative consequences or because they believe that things cannot improve.
Those who maintain passive or inhibited positions tend to ignore conflicts with the false hope that they will disappear or give up too much to avoid any confrontation, without defending their interests properly.
Many of our passive or inhibited attitudes are maintained by irrational beliefs such as “I need the approval of others at all costs”, “Achieving my objectives is not so important”, “I can’t stand tense situations”, “If we talk about it, the situation will worsen” or “It is always better to back down to avoid greater evils”.
Our beliefs about conflict, that is, our way of perceiving them and evaluating them will determine our attitude towards them. If we regard them as something very negative to be avoided at all costs, we will respond in an inhibited way, trying to ignore them or ceding too much, without sufficiently defending our interests.
3. The assertive attitude
It is the attitude of those who perceive the conflict with a flexible attitude that allows them to choose when to give in and when to resist, but always defending their rights and respecting those of the other party in the conflict.
Applying conflict resolution strategies effectively
Bearing in mind what has been said about attitudes, we will now look at some conflict resolution strategies that can be very useful when dealing with interpersonal conflicts:
Recognize the conflict as soon as possible and maintain a good attitude. It is important to detect conflict as early as possible, as many, over time, become entrenched and tend to worsen. Signs that may help us detect this include feeling tense, angry, or uncomfortable. Also, have the feeling that something goes wrong, notice that the other party behaves in a hostile way, distance or misinterpret our behavior, etc.
Have all possible information to hand. Knowing as much information as possible about the conflict is the basis for good conflict resolution strategies. Perhaps the first question to ask us is: Why does this situation or person mean a conflict for me? Answering this question honestly usually ensures an accurate definition of the conflict and a clear understanding of what is and is not important to us. We also need to consider our goals, wants, and needs, as well as the impact of the conflict on our lives. The more we know about the conflict and how it affects us, the more likely we are to find a satisfactory solution.
Willingness to communicate. The willingness to communicate means dedicating time to establish ties of empathy, seeing things from the other person’s perspective. Of course, it is easier said than done, but there are some tricks to achieve this:
- Interrupt if we don’t understand something and want something to be repeated.
- Do not interrupt to draw conclusions.
- If we tend to interrupt, try to inhale for 3 seconds, then hold your breath for 3 seconds and finally, exhale slowly, for 6 seconds.
- Count to 10 before you start talking.
- Encourage the other person to keep talking.
- Do not focus only on what they are telling us; focus on how they are telling us (emotions, gestures, postures, etc.).
- The message might be distorted, bear in mind that the other party will hear something different than what it is, therefore, it is important we take time to bridge the gap between what we have said and what the other party has heard.
Separate people from the problems. We must never forget that the other party in the conflict is a person or persons. As human beings, we have emotions, values, different environments, and different points of view. Everybody wants to feel good. If we try to solve a conflict by attacking the person and not the problem, we may win the battle, but we will lose the war. If, in addition to winning, we make the other party look bad, we risk losing any kind of collaboration: we risk losing them as an ally.
Focus on interests, not on points of view. The more someone clarifies and defends their position, the more committed they will be to it; their ego will become synonymous with their point of view and they will face a new problem: keeping up appearances. All this reduces the likelihood of resolving the conflict so that benefits are maximized and costs are minimized. You should communicate what your interests are, giving the other person and yourself the opportunity to choose from one of many starting points.
Have several conflict resolution strategies. It is not always possible to manage conflict using a single strategy, so it is important to have several alternatives in mind to ensure that we do not end up at a dead end.
Find solutions for mutual benefits. When looking for solutions, it is advisable to consider as many alternatives as possible, even if they seem far-fetched at first glance. Sometimes, solving a conflict in an optimal way requires creativity, thinking differently, and considering new ways to do things.
Likewise, we must bear in mind that sometimes, individuals may never consider some of these solutions, but they can arise from a discussion, from a clarification of points of view, from letting in the interests of both parties, etc.
Use objective criteria of justice. In life, we can’t always get our way. None of us can win all the battles. When we lose, however, it is easier to accept it if we see justice in the result. We also win more battles in a friendly way when we can show our opponent that the outcome we want meets some criteria of fairness.
Maintain respect and empathy. This includes not showing criticism or hostility, admitting that the other person can see things differently, recognizing our possible responsibility or error, etc.
Evaluate the results. Once the conflict has been resolved, it is time to analyze our attitudes, behaviors, emotions, etc. This will help us learn for another occasion, to be critical of ourselves, to discover the other party in the conflict, to improve as people.
Learn conflict resolution strategies with ifeel
The most suitable professionals to advise companies on issues such as conflict resolution strategies are psychologists, for example through specific emotional well-being programs for companies such as the one that ifeel offers to its partner companies and which is significantly improving their productivity.
The objective of this program is to help companies put the care of the psychological well-being of their employees at the center of their corporate culture and their strategy to boost productivity in a sustainable way, avoiding significant risks to the work environment and talent retention.
Thanks to this partnership, HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to apply conflict resolution strategies to their policy.
In addition, employees have access to a mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs at any given time. This way, they can access different mental health care tools with ifeel’s app. They can also receive emotional support through a chat with one of the certified psychologists on our platform. If continuous help is needed over time, they can access the third level of the program: online psychological therapy with a psychologist specialized in cases such as theirs.
We hope you found this post about conflict resolution strategies useful. If you would like more information about our emotional well-being program for companies, all you have to do is get in touch and we will contact your team as soon as possible. Don’t miss this article about the advantages of using ifeel’s mental health at work platform.