Being a human living amongst other humans means that you are bound to come across and experience some sort of conflict in your life. Most likely, this conflict will be between someone in your family or someone in your friend group since those are the people you interact with the most. You don’t want to ruin or sever the relationship or connection you have with a loved one, and it is important to be aware of how to solve any conflicts that may occur between you and the other parties. Now, there are multiple ways to resolve a conflict, but we will be focusing on some healthy resolutions to help you and your loved ones avoid circling back to the same issues over and over.
The kind of conflict being discussed in this article is interpersonal conflict. Interpersonal conflict can be described as occurring “in interactions where there are real or perceived incompatible goals, scarce resources, or opposing viewpoints, [...] [and it] may be expressed verbally or nonverbally, [...] ranging from a nearly imperceptible cold shoulder to a very obvious blowout.” This is the kind of conflict that you would usually encounter with family, friends, someone you live with or someone you see a lot. This could even happen in the workplace if you have created a more personal relationship with your coworkers. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to never experience any interpersonal conflict, and that is totally okay! Conflict is natural, especially because you will definitely have individuals in your life who don’t share the exact same opinions and views as you do. What is important is that you learn (and hopefully show others) that conflict can be handled in a healthy way that will be beneficial to both parties in the long run.
In order to solve and even avoid conflict, it is important to know what could possibly be causing the conflict between you and another person. Before we get into the different healthy ways to resolve conflict in your personal relationships, it might help to know some common causes of conflict.
There are three main sources of conflict noted by conflict theorist, Daniel Katz, which include: economic conflict, value conflict, and power conflict. “Economic conflict involves competing motives to attain scarce resources. Each party wants to get the most that it can, and the behavior and emotions of each party are directed toward maximizing its gain.” With respect to interpersonal relationships, an example of this type of conflict might be a couple disagreeing over how to split up their finances and how much money should be put toward certain aspects of their lives together and their lives as two separate individuals. “Value conflict involves incompatibility in ways of life, ideologies – the preferences, principles and practices that people believe in.” In an interpersonal relationship, this type of conflict could manifest itself as a difference of religious beliefs or a difference in political preferences which both contain room for peoples’ values to be challenged by another person, such as a family member or friend. “Power conflict occurs when each party wishes to maintain or maximize the amount of influence that it exerts in the relationship and the social setting. It is impossible for one party to be stronger without the other being weaker [...] Thus, a power struggle ensues.” An example of a power conflict in an interpersonal relationship could be a biological parent and a step parent trying to exert power over one another to prove that they are the one in charge and the one that should be acknowledged as the true parental figure.
One more very important source of conflict that isn’t a part of the main three above is ineffective communication. “Parties may have different perceptions as to what are the facts in a situation, and until they share information and clarify their perceptions, resolution is impossible.” A lack of communication or a lack of understanding can be a root cause of many conflicts, and they can be the reason conflicts escalate or fail to get resolved. Furthermore, it is important to know that an interpersonal conflict does not just have to have one source, and it can actually be any mixture of the sources discussed above.
Now that we’ve established some sources of conflict in interpersonal relationships, we can go over some skills that can assist you when you do experience conflict in any of your relationships. The Conflict Resolution Network lists 12 skills to aid you in conflict resolution. These skills include:
● A win-win approach
○ “The win-win approach is about changing the conflict from attack and defence, to co-operation.” This ensures that you and the person you are in conflict with are now working together, as a team, in order to stop attacking each other and, instead, attack the problem head on.
● A creative response
○ “The Creative response to conflict is seeing problems as possibilities. Deciding to see what can be done, rather than how terrible it all is, choosing to extract the best from the situation.”
○ “Empathy is about building rapport, openness and trust between people. When it is absent, people are less likely to consider your needs and feelings.”
● Appropriate assertiveness
○ “Appropriate assertiveness is being able to state your case without arousing the defences of the other person. It works when you say how it is for you rather than what they should or shouldn’t do.”
● Cooperative power
○ Cooperative power is “what will steer us to use power ‘with’ rather than power ‘over’ each other.” This skill goes hand in hand with the win-win skill because it encourages you and the other person by working together to fix the problem rather than working against each other.
● Managing emotions
○ Managing your own emotions in a conflict is the most control you can have within the situation, and it can help to de-escalate the conflict. “Some people behave obstructively trying to gain a feeling of belonging and significance. How we respond can determine how entrenched they become.[...] We need to break out of the spiral [...] by acknowledging their feelings and [...] needs.”
● Willingness to resolve
○ “Look closely at yourself and recognise that others will always be different to you. Choose to respond in ways that seem more appropriate to the actual situation than the movie playing inside your head.” A lot of us might go into a conflict already expecting it to go one way, but the truth is we don’t really know where it might end up. Holding on to the way you think a situation should go can be detrimental because it could keep you from being able to move forward with resolve.
● Mapping the conflict
○ Mapping out the conflict is making sure you are aware of your own fears/issues/needs and the other parties’, as well. “When you finish your map [whether it is a physical drawing or in your head], you are likely to have some new perspectives or insights; you will see needs, fears or issues that are common, common ground. You will be able to identify issues that are specific to individuals or groups.”
● Development of options
○ Developing options is developing tools that might help you resolve a conflict. Some tools listed by the Conflict Resolution Network include:
■ Goal setting
■ Trial and error
■ Establishing alternatives
● Introduction to negotiation
○ This basically means taking into consideration the needs of both yourself and other people in the conflicting party. “Consider outcomes that would address more of what you both want.”
● Introduction to mediation
○ “Mediation is the practice of neutral, third party assisted negotiation.” A meditator is a great option to have available if you don’t think you and the other party/parties in a conflict can resolve the situation on your own. However, if you have learned to implement all the skills listed above, you can also become a mediator for conflicts that you are not a part of in order to help those around you resolve their issues.
● Broadening perspectives
○ This skill means being aware of yourself and all other parties and seeing things from all sides. Some ways that can help you broaden your perspective are:
■ Observing while participating
■ Respecting and valuing differences
■ Realizing what you can and can’t change about the situation
With all the skills listed above, you can learn and implement the effective communication that is needed in order to resolve any conflicts that you may encounter. Whether it is a conflict you are directly involved with or a conflict that you may be a mediator for, these skills will help you be able to approach a conflict in a more prepared way and, hopefully, help you to be able to resolve the conflict without any detrimental effects.
1. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. (2016, September 29). 6.2 conflict and interpersonal communication. Communication in the Real World. https://open.lib.umn.edu/communication/chapter/6-2-conflict-and-interpersonal-communication/.
2. Fisher, R. (2000). Sources of Conflict and Methods of Conflict Resolution. http://www.ulstergaa.ie/wp-content/uploads/coaching/team-management-2012/unit-3/sources-of-conflict-and-methods-of-resolution.pdf.
3. 12 skill summary. Conflict Resolution Network. (2020, July 23). Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://www.crnhq.org/12-skill-summary/.
Author: Lauryn Agron
Editor: Anum Khan
Health scientist: Carmen Havyarimana