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Resolving Conflict

The first time we come across someone with a different perspective from us may determine how we go about conflicts in general.

Because we believe our perspective is right, we may try to persuade the other that they need to agree with us, have the same opinion as us and if not, decide that person needs to be out of our life. Perhaps – worst case scenario – dismissing them as toxic, out of order, wrong etc.

But through seeing another’s perspective, through their eyes, can lead to immense personal growth.

OK so that this point you might be thinking – she’s off her rocket, that opinion that so and so had is blatantly wrong (perhaps you can cite some scientific research, figures to back yourself up, to prove your point). And in some ways that might help the bigger picture. But will it help your relationship? Maybe the relationship isn’t all it was cracked up to be which can cause a shedload of rug pulling from underneath you.

Take the example of people who believe vaccination is what has saved the world from disease and those who believe vaccination undermines our immune system. An extreme and much fought over debate “The anti-vaxxers and the pro-vaxxers”. The extreme perspectives lead to people accusing others of having no social responsibility, being uncaring, not looking at current research etc… vaccine damaged children and extensive lawsuits ….

Arguments are extreme in both camps and may be taken as personal attacks at the extreme end of things; scientific research disproving links between the MMR vaccine and autism and parents believing their son or daughter’s autism appeared following the vaccination; whether research has been done into side effects, etc. etc.  The scapegoating or otherwise of eminent doctors – it’s an emotive area.

Both parties are operating from two different but parallel perspectives.


Scientists focus for a moment on the emotion rather than the research figures. What scares you most? People are ignoring statistical research figures or a potential return of smallpox and hitherto eradicated diseases due to hygiene and vaccination programmes (many diseases were disappearing prior to vaccination programmes)? For the anti vaxxers, consider that science has a point backed up in research. But so do feelings. Right brain, left brain. Where can the two meet in the middle?

Think about it for a moment.

Now think back to a conflict you’ve experienced and look for the overriding emotion. Is it fear? How does this feeling or being aware of this feeling change things?

What does this opinion / research / evidence speak to you about?
What is the feeling you get when you think about it?
What is it that you want your friend to understand?
What does it mean to you if your friend doesn’t agree with you?

Take another conflict.

Person A is upset by something Person B did.

Person A believes Person B should understand that something they did upset them. Person A then tells Person C that Person B is out of order and should apologise.

Person B doesn’t realise that Person A is upset, nor that they’d done anything wrong but senses an “undercurrent” of something not being quite right. Person B talks to Person D who is part of the picture to a degree, and agrees with Person B that Person A is behaving differently, or there is something of an atmosphere.

You can see that from a bird’s eye perspective that this isn’t going in a particularly helpful direction with more and more people impacted in a scenario that could easily have been handled by two people at the outset. What often happens in this situation is a form of “ganging up” against each other which results in more people being hurt than was necessary.

Obtain agreement from all parties that they will:
1. Work to resolve the conflict.
2. Treat each other with respect.
3. Be clear and truthful about what is bothering them and what change they want.
4. Listen to other participants and make an effort to understand the views of others.
5. Be willing to take responsibility for their behaviour.
6. Be willing to compromise.

These rules are not about thinking things like “they didn’t do x, y and z” or “they did x, y and z” which proves they weren’t listening, they had their own agenda. It’s about being really clear as to what outcome you want from the meeting or conflict. What resolution are you actually seeking?

Remember, if you see the perspective that you are both hurt, both feeling small and insignificant in your pain, they probably are as well.

Just for a few moments, imagine what it is like to be the other person(s), and how they might actually be feeling. How do you feel when someone refuses to see your perspective?

Steps – Ideally invite a third party to mediate to enable everyone to be heard.

1. Arrange for all parties to confront the problem.
2. Select a time as soon as all parties have cooled down.
3. Meet at a neutral place.
4. Participants must describe conflict clearly and describe behaviours, feelings and desired changes / outcome.
5. Direct participants to use I, not you, and to focus on specific behaviours and problems, not on people.

i.e. “When you did (x, y and z), I felt” (i.e. not *you* are [descriptive word]. Do you understand?
Other party reflects back exactly what they heard, checks back, “is that correct?”

Ask participants to restate what the others have said.
Summarise the conflict based on what’s been heard, obtain agreement.
Look for solutions.
Ask each participant to offer a solution.
List all of the options presented (either verbally or on flip chart).
Discuss all of the options in a positive manner.
Rule out any options that participants agree are unworkable.
Summarise all possible options for a solution.
Assign further analysis of each option to a participant.
Obtain agreement from all parties on next steps.
Close meeting by having participants shake hands, apologise and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.

Download this Conflict Resolution Styles Quiz!

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