Conflict Resolution: Learning to Find the Middle Way

When most people think of conflict resolution, they think of major conflicts — wars, political battles, court fights. However, conflicts occur whenever two people disagree.

In fact, according to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, conflict is defined as “a disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution, then, is the process of trying to bring that conflict to a close.

What is Conflict Resolution?

Conflict in and of itself is not always a bad thing. However, conflicts must be solved to be productive. When participating in conflict resolution, an individual listens to all sides of the conflict and then determines a course of action that is fair and beneficial for all parties.

Conflict resolution is about far more than simply problem solving, which is another interpersonal skill. Instead, conflict resolution is about understanding the people behind the problem. What are their needs, presuppositions, and beliefs, and where have those needs, presuppositions and beliefs differed in order to create conflict? To be able to resolve a conflict, individuals must have an excellent understanding of not just the problem but also the people involved.

What are Examples of Conflict Resolution in Real Life?

Conflicts occur in all life situations — from workplace conflicts to conflicts in the family. However, the process of conflict resolution is remarkably similar no matter what kind of conflict you find yourself in. The following is just one example of real-life conflict.

Mary and Todd, a newly married couple, haven’t been speaking to each other much lately, and each of their discussions seems to end in an argument. When they are together, neither really seems to be comfortable nor having a good time. The two go to marriage counseling, and the counselor attempts to resolve the conflict by talking to each member of the couple about what he or she perceives is the problem and what his or her expectations about marriage are.

After conferencing with both parties, the counselor identifies that Mary and Todd had very different expectations about marriage before they were married. Mary expected that they would spend a great deal of quality time together, and that every moment at home would be a moment together. Todd, on the other hand, thought that marriage would operate much more like dating — that the two would spend time together, but only when they had agreed to do so.

The marriage counselor begins the conflict resolution process by helping the two members of the couple see their differences, understand the other person’s perspective, and realize how their partner’s expectations were very different from the actual situation. After encouraging each partner to develop empathy for one another, the counselor can help the couple work to solve their problem by encouraging them to adopt a healthy definition of and create a plan to implement that definition in their home.

How Can I Improve My Conflict Resolution Skills?

The biggest way to improve your conflict resolutions skills is to start by getting to know yourself. What are your values? What are your preconceptions? Do you understand how what you value or what you think is right and proper might be vastly different from someone else’s values? Because conflicts arise from differences in values and preconceptions, it is important for individuals to begin learning to solve conflicts by understand that they might not always be right.

After getting to know yourself, practice developing empathy for others. Empathy is very different from another word that sounds so much like it — sympathy. Empathy is not having sympathy for someone; it is learning to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Practice doing that very thing. The next time you have an argument with someone, consider that person’s position. Can you see how that person may have reasonably arrived at that position? You don’t have to agree with their position, but can you understand why they believe what they believe?

The final step in honing your conflict resolution skills is to practice coming up with unique and fair solutions to conflicts that take everyone’s positions into account. Practice this step by thinking of the middle ground. When you are involved in conflicts, can you see a middle solution? What might it be?

Conflict resolution is all about critical thinking. By practicing these steps, you’ll learn to think more critically and be a better problem solver.

If those tips don’t work, you can always try this:

Useful resources:

4 Steps to Resolving Any Argument – 

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One Response to “Conflict Resolution: Learning to Find the Middle Way”

  1. Gert says:

    Oooh….this can be a hot topic. Getting to know yourself will indeed help with conflict – unfortunately in my experience it can take a little bit of ageing to really understand your own values, feeling and responses to other people and situations. Do you have any suggestions for those who are a bit younger and haven’t yet worked out what really makes them tick? About what age do you think someone can really be in touch with themselves?

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