I have long believed that communication skills are among the most important, yet least practiced, survival skill sets. They are applicable across the board, both now and down the road.
Before we go too much further, let me clarify the type of conflict we’re discussing here. When I say, “conflict resolution,” I’m talking about arguments or disagreements that happen between yourself and those around you. I’d also include those instances where you’re a third party, or maybe referee might be a better term, to a discussion between two or more others in your family or group. These are what we often call “interpersonal” conflicts.
In other words, we’re NOT talking about some sort of armed confrontation with a group of strangers intent on taking your supplies or anything else along those lines.
There are several different strategies for dealing with conflict, each with their own pros and cons. As you practice these approaches, you’ll get a feel for which ones seem to be the best fit for different situations as well as when you’re dealing with certain individuals in your group or family.
There are some conflicts that just aren’t worth the time or energy to continue. If surrendering the point does you no harm and will end the argument, this may be the best approach to take. After all, you have a life to lead and spending inordinate amounts of time arguing about the little things does nobody much good.
You might also consider the fact that, well, you just might be wrong. I’m sure that’s happened at least once in your life, right? Heck, that’s one of the worst feelings in the world, isn’t it? That moment in a heated debate when you realize you have been vehemently defending a point or side that’s entirely wrong. Surrender is likely your best option at that point.
Remember, too, that surrendering in an interpersonal conflict doesn’t reduce your value as a human being, doesn’t make you less of a person, doesn’t cause baldness, and won’t make others point and laugh at you. It can be difficult to do, no question about it. But, in many cases, it truly is an instance of taking the high road.
Many, MANY online disputes could fall into this category.
If the conflict involves a group of people, taking a vote and letting the majority rule can be a viable option in some cases. The important thing here is to clarify the “rules” and make sure all agree that the outcome of the vote is what everyone will follow, no matter what.
A great way to use this approach is to allow each side a bit of time to state their case and make their argument to the group as a whole. The vote can be public or private, as the circumstances and issues warrant.
This approach brings in a neutral third party to help determine a workable solution to the dilemma at hand. The mediator doesn’t make the final decision. Instead, he or she assists the parties involved to better understand each point of view and come to an agreement.
The mediator’s primary role is to keep the lines of communication open between the parties involved in the dispute as well as perhaps passing along information back and forth. Again, though, the mediator doesn’t get involved in the final solution, the parties involved do that themselves.
This approach works well when the parties involved are open to resolution and are willing to consider other points of view.
Sort of a kissing cousin to Mediation, Arbitration also involves a third party. In this case though, the third party is the decision maker in the conflict. Think of the arbiter as a judge whose decision is, hopefully, final. He or she listens to the differing points of view and ideally makes a decision that is fair.
Generally speaking, the parties plead their case to an impartial judge or panel of judges. Arbitration is not unlike a court hearing in that respect. Each side works to prove they are right and the other wrong.
A key element of this approach is that the parties involved must agree to abide by the arbiter’s decision. Arbitration works well in situations where the parties involved can’t seem to communicate with one another without conversations immediately devolving into shouting matches or they otherwise cannot seem to get along with each other hardly at all.
This is probably the most common approach in interpersonal conflicts. The basic premise is to meet in the middle. Each side gains something by giving up something else. While the parties may become resentful or angry about having to lessen their demands, it isn’t always possible for one side or the other to get all they want regardless.
The downside is that compromise is often overused in our daily lives. We have a tendency to turn to compromise first when in many cases it isn’t the ideal approach. If it is used too often, it can lead to feelings of resentment and anger as the parties feel as though they never fully win an argument or dispute.
Compromise is an excellent option when it isn’t feasible, or even remotely possible, for both sides to get all they want. Often, it is used to break a stalemate. If nothing else, discussing a potential compromise can open the channels of communication.
If all parties involved are willing to openly discuss the matter and their demands could conceivably be met, collaboration is the way to go. It is truly a win/win approach. In order to be successful, the parties have to be willing to work together to find a solution that benefits everyone. If there is negativity or ill will on the part of even one participant, collaboration won’t work.
Collaboration is probably the most difficult approach to try because it is rare that all sides of the dispute will not only be open to working together on the solution but also be able to find a common ground that gives everyone what they want. However, in cases where those elements all come together, the results can be amazing.
This approach is, essentially, a win at all costs sort of deal. Of the different approaches presented here, it is the one least likely to succeed in most situations. Yet, it is also the first one many people attempt. Think of it as “my way or the highway.” The winner in this argument gets everything they want and damn the consequences.
The competition approach should be used only when you know in your heart and soul that you are right and that if you concede, there will be grave repercussions either now or later. Example situations include times when you are being bullied into doing something you feel is wrong as well as when a decision must be made immediately for safety or security of the family or group.
While this approach could get you what you want in the dispute, the repercussions may be serious. Quite often, the “loser” will be resentful, especially if this way of handling interpersonal conflicts is the routine rather than the exception. This can lead to more heated disputes down the road, even over issues that are trivial in nature.
Those who believe every argument can be solved with, “What I say goes” may be in for a rude awakening at some point down the road.