Conflict results when we have a disagreement that makes us think our needs, wants or things we care about are threatened. Conflicts take a lot of energy and are destructive; resolving them quickly and peacefully is important. The University of Colorado's Conflict Information Consortium recommends seven steps for simple conflict resolution.
Don't Dig Deeper
There's a temptation to have your own back, responding with a hurtful or “one-up” statement. A perfect example is two children in an argument who keep responding back and forth with one-up statements. At this point, agreeing with the other person, even if they're slightly in the wrong, and redirecting the conversation is a better solution -- or simply walk away, whichever best fits the situation.
Respect, Don't Humiliate
People in conflict often feel hurt that their feelings and opinions aren't respected; they feel humiliated. For instance, when a young person takes a political position, yet grandad puts him down as if he's clueless, feelings get hurt and the receiver is humiliated. As conflict escalates, parties need to articulate how they feel and ask for respect, but also be careful that they too show respect.
Watch Those Messages
Often, we send messages that we don't mean to send. As conflict escalates, it becomes hard to detach and analyze our messages. We might think our words say we care, but the other side reads our body language and hears “He's clueless.” This might be a good time to seek out a neutral party who can help everyone hear their own messages.
Get a Plan
Conflicts are a signal that we lack a plan or system to handle times when we disagree. This is the time to pull back and agree to disagree for a moment until you can figure out the best way to handle this and future conflicts. Once you decide on a plan, stick to it, unless both or all can see it isn't working. A caution: Make sure the system is fair. For instance, a family dispute resolution that has a mother-in-law sitting in might not be completely fair, depending on the family.
Negotiate those conflicts away. Negotiation requires mutual respect for each other's position. Each side makes points until they arrive at a mutually negotiated agreement. For instance, if the argument is about going into debt for the holidays, negotiation might reduce the amount to go into debt while decreasing spending somewhere else.
Agree to Disagree
Differences don't have to result in conflict. Sometimes you just can't agree. At that point, the best solution is to agree to disagree. Many couples have divergent views on politics, with each voting for opposing parties, effectively canceling out each other's vote. It's a conscious decision, but it is always done out of respect for each other.
Get the Big Picture
Conflict can have terrible consequences; keep the bigger picture in mind. As Anna Freud pointed out, children can feel they can't be liked because their parents don't like each other. Let the other side know how much you appreciate them and that you count on them, that you're a family or a unit that needs each other; articulate all the things that you like, need and are grateful for about each other.
- University of Colorado at Boulder: Conflict Information Consortium, How to Stop Fighting
- University of Colorado at Boulder: Conflict Information Consortium
- Psycho-Analysis for Teachers and Parents; Anna Freud
- University of Wisconsin at Madison: Office of Quality Improvement and Office of Human Resource Development
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images