Understanding Conflict Part 2: Resolution

Once a conflict is identified, then it is time to move towards resolution. This often requires a little bit of practice. Going in with a level head and a plan are the keys toward success. If emotional about the subject, we know it’s best to take a few minutes to allow ourselves to calm down. It is also important to go in with the intention of hearing both sides of the issue, and not necessarily to just getting our own thoughts out there. Most of the time, the other person has a good reason they feel the way they do, and it is important to both respect and trust that. Even if their reasons are built upon a misunderstanding, it is important to go in with an open mind to figure out what it is and how to resolve it.

It takes the use of several parts of our brain in order to clear the air. While conflict is often complex, lowering defenses and reaching resolution can be far more intricate. Below is a somewhat simplified roadmap using methods from Emergenetics.

  1. Start with social brain- Claim our feelings. Using an “I” message: “I am concerned about this situation.”
  2. Move to analytical brain- Provide a report of the situation. Focus on accuracy over emotion. Simply put, the aim here is consensus about the situation.
  3. Move to conceptual brain- Create solutions by brainstorming options. This step ensures everyone participates in finding a solution so no one feels left out.
  4. End with structural brain- After brainstorming solutions, we can then get organized by selecting the best one for the problem, determining the next steps and establishing a time frame.

This process fits hand-in-hand with Marshall Rosenberg’s four-part Nonviolent Communication Process. This process was designed to help guide us to express how we are and it works just as effectively to empathically receive how another is. Rosenberg recommends asking questions like the following:

  • What do I/you observe that does not contribute to our well-being?
  • How do I/you feel in relation to this observation?
  • What do I/you need or value that causes the feelings?
  • What are the concrete actions I/you would like taken?

Combining these two methods helps us get to the source of the conflict and start achieving resolution. Though it is not something that most people look forward to, conflict resolution is something that almost every manager in the world will have to deal with. Becoming good at identifying and resolving conflict will create a stronger, more effective work environment that will improve employee job satisfaction and productivity. It really is a skill we all must have.

Browning, Gail. Tap into the New Science of Success: Emergenetics. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Print
Dana, Daniel. Conflict Resolution. New York, NY: The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2001. Print.
Rosenberg, Marshall. nonviolentcommunication.com. Puddle Dancer Press, 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.

Understanding Conflict Part 1: Identification

There is a reason that almost every great piece of fiction involves some sort of conflict. It makes things interesting, and we are hardwired to be attracted to it. But when it invades our lives it can be less than welcome. Learning to deal with it can be difficult but understanding how conflict manifests can give you an upper hand in successfully overcoming it.

I would say that the first step to dealing with conflict is being able to properly identify it. Conflict has become a label for a variety of human experiences including indecision, general problems and stressful situations. While it may seem inconsequential, mislabeling an experience as conflict may result in using a screwdriver when the right tool for the job is a monkey wrench. Although indecision, stress and general problems may cause conflict, or arise as a result of conflict, the implications of unresolved conflict not only impact the individuals involved but also the bottom line.

Properly identifying an issue as conflict requires an understanding of the nature of the beast. According to Daniel Dana, author of Conflict Resolution, conflict exists when four criteria are met:

1.     Interdependence – When two or more people need something from one another and there is some degree of vulnerability if that need isn’t met.

2.     Blame – This occurs when one of the involved parties find fault with the other for causing the problem.

3.     Anger – Whether it’s displayed or not, this is when they become emotionally upset about the situation.

4.     Setback – This evolves once the issue begins to affect performance, productivity or engagement.

When all of these factors are in play, you can bet that conflict is on its way, if it hasn’t already arrived.

Conflict impacts not only the individuals involved but also the bottom line. When individuals are involved in conflict it is likely that they are stressed, annoyed, distracted, and emotionally distressed. Any of these factors can result in wasted time, bad decisions, turnover, increased absences, sabotage, theft and damages. Ultimately, this impacts performance, productivity and engagement. It’s costly, and worth the time it takes to avoid or resolve—more on that next week.


Dana, Daniel. Conflict Resolution. New York, NY: The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. 2001. Print.

It’s All in Your Head

There are always problems that must be solved, and the decisions we make when facing problems are the direct result of the state of mind we have going into them. I have found that when working with individuals it is easy to get hung up on the “why”:

·      Why did I do that?
·      Why did they do that?
·      Why didn’t they listen?
·      Why didn’t I take their advice?

This kind of thinking rarely brings a solution. In fact, it can be downright counterproductive; it siphons energy and shifts the focus on the past.

True, it is extremely important to learn from the past, but I have found that individuals can overcome problems much more effectively when the attention is focused on the present and future. One of the ways to do this is by focusing on the “hows” and “whats” of the issue:

·      What can I learn?
·      What would I do differently next time?
·      What’s possible now?
·      How can I move forward from here?
·      How can I apply what I’ve learned?

These questions are better designed to keep minds where they need to be: What is? or What will be?

The only thing the past has to offer us now is a chance to learn from it. The present and the future, on the other hand, have so much more. Therefore, try to not waste time beating yourself up about what has already happened. Shift focus on what is still to come. For many of us, this requires a change in mindset and asking the appropriate questions of ourselves can help create that change.