Conflict Resolution

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(This article appeared in the November/December 2008 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Joyce B. Robinson, Research & Education Department Director

Conflict is a serious disagreement of opinion with another person or an argumentative incompatibility of opinions and principles.

Conflicts do not always lead to negative outcomes — conflicting parties can solve problems by looking together at a variety of alternatives and taking the time to communicate openly. In an honest exchange, hostility, anger, and misunderstandings are easily reduced.

Managing Disageements

The course to successful conflict resolution starts with you using “I” at the beginning of your statements to let the other party know how you feel. Rather than saying such things as, “You really messed up,” begin a statement with “I,” and make it about yourself: “I feel frustrated when this happens.”

Being non-accusatory encourages the other person to consider your point of view without first feeling attacked.

In addition:

  • Be assertive, not aggressive. Keep the statements focused on how you are behaving, thinking, and feeling rather than on how you perceive the other person is acting;
  • Speak calmly and rationally. Do what you can to keep the other person from adopting a defensive attitude;
  • Avoid blaming. Pointing fingers only discourages empathy for another person’s feelings;
  • Be willing to forgive. There’s always room for personal growth when you forgive others for what you have suffered;
  • Be willing to forget. Once you have “resolved” a conflict, then “let go” of the conflict. Don’t bring it up later on;
  • Be honest. Discuss your feelings, and reactions to the conflict and to the resolutions, and
  • Show respect for yourself and for others. Don’t be vindictive or belittle the other person.

Steps to Take

If you sense a conflict, it’s best to consider whether there is a “right” time and place to discuss the situation, most likely in private. In addition:

  • Remain focused. Avoid the temptation to bring up seemingly related conflicts. Introducing the past often clouds the issue and makes developing a mutual understanding of the current issue less likely;
  • Listen carefully. People often think they’re listening to the other person, but instead are thinking about what they’re going to say next when that person stops talking. Don’t interrupt or interject a defensive standpoint;
  • Appreciate other points of view. In a conflict, we talk a lot about our point of view to get the other person to see things our way. Ironically, there’s little focus on the other person’s point of view. Not so ironically, nobody feels understood. In trying to really see the other side, you can better explain yours;
  • Respond to criticism with empathy. When someone comes at you with criticism, it’s easy to get defensive. While criticism is hard to hear, it’s important to try to empathize with someone else’s feelings;
  • Find ways to compromise. Instead of trying to “win” an argument, look for solutions that meet everybody’s needs, either through compromise, or through a new solution that gives both sides something; and
  • Take a “Time-Out.” Sometimes tempers flare and a discussion becomes an argument or a fight. If the conflict-resolution process becomes too heated, it’s okay to take a break until you both cool off.

While taking a break is a good idea, try to come back to where you were before, and accept that it may be necessary to admit to mistakes and to apologize for behaviors before a stalemate can be overcome. It takes courage, character, and fortitude to admit an error, bad judgment, disrespectful behavior, or a lack of caring, concern, or understanding.

When both sides approach a conflict with a constructive attitude, mutual respect, and a willingness to see the other’s point of view, you can reach the goal of a resolution.

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