Managing conflict is never easy, whether you’re trying to resolve a conflict of your own or trying to help two people settle a dispute. The most important thing to know is that the longer you let the situation continue, the worse it’ll be when it’s time to resolve it. So take a deep breath, maintain your cool, and get ready to find a solution that can make everyone (reasonably) happy. 1. Make a plan for meeting. If two people are genuinely in conflict and you want to help them — or they need your help — then you should plan a time to meet that would make everybody happy. Of course, you may just walk into a conflict and have to solve it on the spur of the moment, but hopefully you have some time to plan in advance. If so, pick a time and place that works for both people, and make sure that they are both invested in solving the conflict. If there’s real trouble, then the sooner you can get together, the better. Ad
Let each person state his or her side of the story. If you are in charge of managing a conflict, whether it’s because you’re a manager or because you’re helping two people figure out their issues, you have to be an active listener. Let each person express his or her position and listen with compassion and care until each person has stated his or her feelings and desires. Don’t let the people interrupt each other and make it clear that each person will take turns fully explaining him or her self. Make sure that both people are really listening to each other instead of just waiting until their turn to have their say. If necessary, have one person repeat some of the main points the other person made, so it’s clear that they both have an understanding of how each person is feeling. 3.
Make it clear that you are there to help resolve, not solve. The people who are in conflict must figure out how to move past their problems on their own, not look to you for a magical solution that will make all of their problems go away. You should make this clear from the start so both parties know that they have to work hard and listen actively before they can move forward. You are there to mediate so the conflict doesn’t get out of control and so that both parties can look at the situation with more objectivity and control, but that doesn’t mean you will provide them with an answer.
Maintain your objectivity. Even if you think that Lucy is obviously in the right and Mary is 100% wrong, it is not your position to say so. If you jump in on Lucy’s side, then Mary will feel like you’re both ganging up against her and the conflict will be even further from a resolution. Instead, keep your own personal opinions and ideas out of it and treat each person’s perspective with compassion and respect. Even if one person is more “right” than the other, they both still have to reach a solution that can reasonably please both of them. If you’re mediating a conflict, then you should pay equal attention to both people. Let each person spend about the same amount of time speaking and make points that support both people instead of just focusing on one person or the other. Maintain a neutral expression, and try not to look put off or skeptical if one person is stating something you don’t agree with at all. 5.
Be a calming force. One of your primary tasks is to help both people keep their cool. Manage their stress levels, their anger, and their emotions to the best of your ability. If someone is getting too heated, raising his or her voice, and getting visibly angry or upset, take a five-minute break or ask that person to take a few deep breaths and wait until he or she can speak calmly. You can only find a solution if both people stay calm and can see clearly. If the conversation is not going down a constructive path, and both people have resorted to name calling and cursing and just criticizing each other back and forth without getting anywhere, then you should intervene and get the conversation back on track. You can say something like, “Let’s focus on what’s important here,” or “We’re just not getting anywhere with this kind of talk.”
Figure out the source of the tension. Once both people have stated their cases, you can help them figure out what is really at stake. They may think that they are really angry at each other because of financial tension, but they may really be upset because of a lack of communication. Be as specific. Have each person discuss all of the things that are troubling him or her and see if you can really find the root of the problem. Be patient. It may take a bit of digging — and some pain — to get there. If you can put it in simple terms, something like, “Bob feels that Mary is micromanaging his project” or “Sara feels like Jim doesn’t spend enough quality time with her,” then you can begin to tackle the problem better than if you just knew that the two people were angry with each other.
Work together to find a solution. Once you have all agreed on the source of the tension and the problem that is at hand, you can begin to find a solution. Remember that both people do have to agree about the nature of the real problem to be able to find an effective solution. It may not be readily apparent, and you may need some perseverance and creativity to get there, but eventually, you should be able to find a way to make both people (reasonably) happy. Here are some potential solutions you may find and ways to state them gracefully: “It seems like both of you are having trouble living together. Sara may be a bit too focused on being neat, while Mary may be a bit careless when it comes to doing chores.
To solve the problem, you should set out a list of guidelines for how you can both keep the house clean without running into trouble. If you both agree to do the things on the list, then you can stay happy in your living space.” “It seems that Bob has been managing Clark a little too closely. To avoid this in the future, Bob and Clark can discuss the objectives of a project in great detail and can decide on times when they can both check in about the status of the project; this will make Bob feel at ease about where the project is going, while giving Clark a little bit of breathing room.”
Make a plan. Once you’ve found a resolution for the problem, you can set out specific guidelines for making it happen. Remember that both people have to be invested in finding this solution. You can set a timeline for achieving these goals and have both people put it in writing so they feel that it will actually happen. Here are some ways it can happen: “Mary and Sara should sit down and discuss which things in the house have to stay clean at all times, and which parts should be cleaned occasionally for an extra nice touch. Once you agree on the daily chores that really need to be done, you can make a chart of rotating tasks.” “Bob and Clark should meet for an hour before every new project, taking at least two detailed pages of notes so that Clark has enough direction to go off on his own. They should meet every three days for half an hour to discuss the progress of the project.”
If both parties agree to disagree, help them part amicably. Maybe neither person, or one of the people, is unwilling to budge, and after much discussion, you haven’t moved past square one. If that’s the case, then you should still make it so that one person understands where the other is coming from and that they can leave the situation without extra hostility or tension. Maybe Bob can’t help but breathe down Clark’s neck or Sara will always be messy no matter what; if that’s the case, then they have to find a way to coexist or make a smart plan for parting ways. Consider the fact that maybe both people just aren’t ready to resolve the conflict and need more time to cool off. If you feel like the argument is getting nowhere because both people are too heated and emotional, not because they refuse to budge from their positions, then consider asking both people reschedule your meeting for a time when both parties can think more clearly.
End the conversation on a positive note. Whether both parties have reached a healthy conclusion or have agreed to disagree, you should end the situation on an optimistic note so neither person feels defeated. If both parties are feeling friendly, go out for a coffee or a beer; if both parties are still very angry, try to diffuse the situation with a bit of humor and see if they’ll at least shake hands and stay cordial. If emotions are too heated, then it’s time for everyone to back off for a bit, but if the vibe is positive, make the people feel good about having the conversation. Remind both parties that, however unpleasant it may be to discuss a conflict, that they have been mature and done the right thing by deciding to resolve the situation instead of staying angry or avoiding the tension. Method 2 of 2: Managing Your Own Conflicts
Face the conflict head-on. If you’re dealing with a conflict of your own, then the worst thing you can do is run and hide, waiting for the conflict to get bigger and bigger until it’s almost impossible to resolve it. Sure, conflict is no fun, whether you’re butting heads with a co-worker or your long-term boyfriend, but remind yourself that if you brush your problems under the rug, then they are guaranteed to get worse. So take a deep breath and accept that you have to deal with it. That being said, pick your battles. If you feel like your boyfriend has been neglecting you, then speak up; but if you feel like you don’t like the way he loads the dishwater, maybe it’s better to hold off.
Don’t tell everyone about it. It’s okay to seek advice from a close friend or another co-worker if you genuinely don’t know what to do. But if you feel the urge to complain to every person in sight about the conflict just so you can gossip or get some anger off your chest, then you’re only getting yourself worked up and possibly putting your relationship in jeopardy if the other person finds out about what you’ve been saying. If you do need advice, then talk to just one or two people whom you really trust so you can have some meaningful direction. Think about it; how would you feel if you heard your co-worker was telling everyone in the office about your problems without talking to you about it? That kind of behavior is guaranteed to make you feel worse.
Use “I” statements. “I” statements are crucial for solving a conflict as objectively as possible. “I” statements make your feelings and motives clear and can help the other person see your side of the story without feeling accused or persecuted; “You” statements make the other party feel like he or she is on the chopping block and will make him or her feel much more defensive. Here are some ways to make useful “I” statements: “I feel like we haven’t been spending enough time together” is more effective than “You are always neglecting me.” “I feel like I’ve been picking up the majority of the work on the project,” is more effective than “You have been making me do all of the work on this project.”
Be specific. This doesn’t mean you have to list the 90 things that the person has done to hurt you or to cause the conflict. In fact, this kind of behavior will only make the person feel worse, like he’s being picked apart. Instead, stick to two or three concrete scenarios that can illustrate what you mean to make the person see the situation from your perspective. Here are some examples: “I was really hurt when you left my birthday party early to hang out with your friends instead of spending more time with me.” “I spent ten hours on the Roberts report while you only worked on the cover page.”