Resolving Conflict

June 10, 2009

How do you feel about conflict? Many people I know and work with, including me, have lots of creative ways to avoid conflicts. I actually really appreciate conflict myself, although I often get scared at first to initiate or engage in conversations that may result in a conflict. Whether we’re comfortable with conflict or not, it’s a part of life, relationships, and work – and always will be.

When we look at conflict more deeply, we realize that it is a vital aspect of growth, change, and every important relationship in our life. The pain, suffering, and stress caused by conflict doesn’t usually come from the conflict itself, it comes from our avoidance or denial of it.

Most of us have not been trained to engage in conflict in a healthy, productive, and authentic way. This is what caused us to run away from it or when we do engage in it, we spend most of our time and energy on protecting ourselves from getting hurting, trying to “win,” or both.

The more we embrace being real, authentic, and speaking our truth, the more effectively we’re able to engage in and resolve conflict in an honest and successful way. Here are some important components of conflict resolution for us to remember and practice:

1) Take responsibility – It always “takes two to tango.” Taking responsibility is not about being at fault or blaming the other person, it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we are a part of the issue.

2) Address the conflict directly – Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you approach someone with an issue, but make sure to do so as soon as possible, don’t let it fester.

3) Seek first to understand – As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding, compassion, and empathy as possible – even and especially when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person is coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4) Use “I” statements – If someone does or says something and I have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If I judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something not only is it not “true” (it’s just my opinion) it will most likely trigger a defensive response from them. We must own our feedback as ours, not speak it like the “truth.”

5) Go for a win-win – The only real way to have a conflict resolves authentically is if it’s a true win-win for everyone involves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible – we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6) Acknowledge others – Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a situation that involves lots of people, acknowledgment is essential to our ability to engage in productive conflict and to be able to resolve it in an authentic and effective way. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their truth.

It takes courage for each of us to engage in conflict. When we acknowledge each other, operate with kindness and humility, and remember that vulnerability is the most important aspect of resolving conflicts effectively, we’re reminded that we’re all in this together.

There are really only two ways to deal with conflicts effectively – directly, all the way through, until they are resolved (not just we get our way) or to completely let them go (not talk about them, not think about them, etc.). We actually know how to do both of these things, although we often opt for a third option, which never works (trying unsuccessfully to address the conflict and then telling others about how right we are and wrong the other person or situation is.

Think of some of the biggest conflicts in your life right now. Are you ready to resolve them? If so, decide whether you’re willing to let them go or not. If not, make a commitment to yourself to engage in them using these steps above and do so in an honest, genuine, and vulnerable way. Don’t wait until it’s too late – have the conversation now.

Which conflicts in your life are you willing to let go of? Which ones are you willing to address directly? Share your thoughts, ideas, commitments, and more here on my blog.

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Comment on This Post


  1. Hi Mike,

    Nice piece. Years ago, I learned a concept called “Fair Fighting” to help resolve conflicts. It has 4 simple rules and when you (and the other person) agree to follow them, it really works.

    1) All statements begin with “I.” This prevents blame and forces the speaker to “own” his part of the issue.
    2) No interrupting. Too often, we’re formulating our defense instead of listening to what the other person is saying.
    3) No denials. Since each person is following rule #1, s/he is owning what s/he is saying. How can anyone deny one’s perception?
    4) No cross complaints. Stay on one topic. Past and other issues will be handled at another time.

    It’s a great technique. Of course, you have to be willing to use it.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. It is easy to solve a conflict if there is understanding and forgiveness. It will also depend on the person who are involved.

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