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How to Handle Conflict: Conflict resolution in 7 easy steps

Updated: Feb 8

Conflict resolution in 7 steps Jason A Hunt

A coworker keeps stealing your sandwich from the break-room fridge. You decide to get back at him by lacing the next sandwich with extremely hot habanero sauce. Is this right or wrong?

No matter how you see it, conflict happens. It could be a disputation between you and your spouse, a shouting match with your kid, or different work styles between coworkers. Although most of us would love to live a life without conflict, we won't. That's because as long as we are with another human, we are going to be different. Be it your background, ethnicity, where you grew up, how your parents were, religion, what your political affiliation is, or your core values...people are naturally going to end up in conflict.

So, just how can you successfully resolve conflict? Here are seven steps:

#1 - Begin with the End in Mind

Yes, Steven Covey was correct when he shared that one of the most powerful habits was to begin with the end in mind. In conflict that means believing that there is a solution that makes everyone happy. This is not you vs them. This is you and them working together to solve differences. Start with the belief that you can be creative and make everyone happy.

#2 - Start individually

This step applies only if you are the mediator between two parties. Begin conflict resolution by talking to each party separately. Ask them to explain what is going on, how long it has been going on, why it is an issue for them, and what they would hope to have. While they are explaining their side, determine how serious this is and what they really want. If it is not that serious, the conflict may not need a mediator and you could ask each party to work it out.

#3 - Discover Reality

This is the most critical step of resolution. Conflict usually happens because we can't or won't see the situation from the other party's view. The goal of this step is to gain mutual understanding. It does not mean you have to agree with their perspective. It does mean you have to listen to what is going on and try to put yourself in their shoes. If you'd like a process, have the first party explain everything that is bothering them. The second listens and then repeats back to the first party everything s/he heard and asks, "Is that correct?" The second party then explains everything while the first listens and then repeats back what s/he heard.

#4 - Brainstorm Options

OK, so there is conflict. What can we do about it? Grab a whiteboard or a pad of paper and start brainstorming solutions to the conflict. Keep in mind that during a brainstorming session, there are no bad ideas. If they say he should be fired, write it down (even though you know that is not a viable option). Keep brainstorming ideas until there are at least 3 or 4 good options. This sometimes works best with a mediator facilitating.

#5 - Evaluate the Options

Go through each option that was presented during the brainstorming session and ask, "Is this viable?" That is, is it an option that has the potential to make both sides happy? You could score each option on a scale of one to ten.

#6 - Determine the Way Forward

If you brainstormed well and completed an evaluation, this step is quite simple. Determining the way forward means committing to an action or actions. Make sure that each party knows exactly what s/he is committing to. It may be best to write down the actions. It may also be wise to ask how committed each party is to the action.

#7 - Follow Up

No matter who your conflict is with or whether or not you are the mediator, the key to conflict resolution is in the follow-up. Decide before the meeting is over how and when you will be following up. This might be a quick email summarizing what was discussed and decided, it may be a short check-in to see how the other is doing, or it could be another formal meeting to adjust the plan. Either way, know that conflict is rarely solved in one sitting.

Conflict resolution makes you stronger

Conflict Resolution Makes You Stronger

While conflict seems scary, if you determine to follow these seven steps the likelihood of resolving the conflict dramatically increases. Interestingly, the depth of your relationship will also increase. Ask anyone who's been married longer than 6 months. Has there been conflict? Are you stronger by working through it? It's like getting a large cut on your hand. Yes, it hurts terribly bad, but after it has healed the scar tissue is actually stronger than normal tissue. You became stronger because of the tear.

So, here's to successful conflict resolution!

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