Healthy Ways to Resolve Conflict

Posted Jul 31, 2017


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This webinar describes conflict management styles and effective conflict management strategies.

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Rachel Pauli: Welcome to today’s webinar, Healthy Ways to Resolve Conflict. My name is Rachel Pauli and I’ll be the host for today’s webinar. Please remember to get a copy of the PowerPoint as well as a tip sheet under the Event Resources section. If you have any questions, you can submit those through the Ask a Question box.

We are very fortunate to have Dr. Samantha O’Connell as our presenter. Dr. O’Connell earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Suffolk University and she currently performs neuropsychological assessments for the Integrated Center for Child Development and works as an outpatient therapist for families, couples and individuals across the developmental lifespan, where she specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Treatment.

So without further delay, Dr. O’Connell, I will turn things over to you.

Dr. Samantha O’Connell: Thank you, Rachel, and thank you everyone for having me here to talk today about conflict. As for humans we have experienced conflict and we will continue to do so. And for many of us when we think about conflict it consists of all different kinds of thoughts, different feelings, memories perhaps, are we “conflict avoidant”. Do we hate conflict? Are we prone to conflict? Does it follow us everywhere we go? What does it mean? So for many, the connotation is negative, but I do hope after today that maybe you have a different perspective on conflict because conflict can actually be an opportunity for need to change.

So over the course of this presentation, I will define conflict. I’m going to explain both the positive and potential negative consequences of conflict, and there’s also a type of cycle that most conflict in gender. So we’re going to discuss what that is in order build awareness of what’s happening with ourselves and what happens with other people. There are so many ways to skin a cat, so we are going to talk about the different conflict management styles, and then finally, I’m going to give an overview about what seem to be the most successful conflict management strategies. And you can see if you have these in your backpack of tricks already, however, you might consider learning some of these and using some of these to reduce the negative impact the conflicts can have, and also to improve the benefits of the opportunity of conflict as we will talk about.

So most people really do cringe at the sound of conflict, right? Unfortunately, many people who thrive in conflict seem to do so because of the love of winning. They love to win an argument, it feels powerful. But often there’s more to conflict than these two styles, right? It’s not just the cringing and willing to avoid it or jumping into it because there is some sort of gain. There is actually a number of positives that can likely be agreed upon by all of us who are going to call me to contact with some kind of conflict.

So first, conflict really is the opportunity to explore a situation or an idea more thoroughly. We really have to stop. We have to evaluate what’s going on and in a way it helps us to be more mindful, because most things become uncomfortable and we can’t simply just go with the flow. There is a conflict we have to address it, immediate change needs to happen. Maybe we weren’t really aware of that before. So conflicts can really help us improve actually. It can help us give insight into our lives about the things that maybe we want to change.

Conflict is also an opportunity to let some of that air out of that balloon in an appropriate way. Meaning, if you think about life as a balloon, stress as the air that goes into it, you blow into that balloon with stress, more air goes in, more air goes in, more air goes in, eventually what happens. It can pop, right, which can lead to sort of the aggressive or the more -- the kind of conflict that we might engage in and it gets us into trouble.

So letting a little bit of air out at a time in a controlled way through controlled method of handling conflict can really help us reduce our overall stress levels, and who wouldn’t want that.

And again, there is something that happens to our self-awareness and we’re forced to look at an uncomfortable situation. So maybe the self-awareness is about how we act or treat others, or maybe it’s really knowing what’s going on inside of us. What gets this going, better understanding our triggers, if you will.

So there are some other positive consequences, and this top one is perhaps my favorite. Conflicts can actually help develop the relationships, the depth of relationships. It helps facilitate the closeness with which two or more people can feel. How many of you have actually felt closer or more connected to a person’s following a conflict? Sometimes communicating our own differences, of course in a controlled way which we will talk about, really can contribute to creating more depths in that relationship, which most people think they find more fulfilling.

So oftentimes conflicts can also generate creative solutions. So problems can be solved in ways that weren’t considered before that might even be better, better for you, better for everybody. Many people will call themselves conflict avoiders, right? I don’t like conflict, they shrink, they avoid. Some people literally just walk away in conflict. They don’t like how it makes them feel, they don’t feel confident in their ability to handle it, or they are simply just don’t want to be bothered with it. But there are sometimes situations where we need to confront it in the long run. And so, conflicts can be the catalyst to getting it done.

In this last slide, I mean I mean it. Conflict can be fun. It can get to juices stirring, it can generate energy. It can be an opportunity to shake things up, maybe make our daily routine more interesting, but there needs to be the spot, this will make it better, that goes along with that. It’s not fun if you think that I am going to be a loser in a situation. Conflict only ends with a winner and a loser, and I am probably going to be the loser, that’s not fun. But there can be a sort of energy, quality to having conflict to really thinking about things and really taking the time to work through them.

So some of these negative consequences might pop into our minds more readily, and if we really sit with our thoughts for a minute, of course we could come up with a million negative consequences of conflict that we’ve had, that we’ve heard about. We may think about circumstances in the world or circumstances in our own life where we think, you know what, it just might be better if that conflict didn’t happen, or wasn’t brought to light.

So, do we think conflict, it means a personal attack on our work, our style, our behavior, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t appreciating who I am or what I stand for. So having feelings like that certainly can be a negative consequence just because it drums it up for us.

And for starters, with conflict, there is a possibility that there will be a winner and a loser. Think of course, a conflict or dispute in our society, in the end, there usually is a winner.

When there is conflict there can actually be decreased teamwork. A negative vibe can be going around and messes with morale, messes with collaboration, then of course a lot of -- if we choose to deal with that conflict or bring in some other personnel, there is time, there is resources, there is energy that can be a negative consequence of dealing with conflict.

So we know, okay, there is pros and there is cons. So what can be some of the sources? Let’s think for a minute and see if any of these resonate with you, either now or in the past, or even if you think about future events that you might be having. What are some sources of conflict? Well, poor communication, right? Maybe there is just not enough information, maybe there is inaccurate information that causes people to have a conflict. Maybe there is incomplete information, that happens a lot at work.

What about unclear jurisdiction? Who is really in charge here? That can be a source of conflict. There is difference in goals, people have different agendas, of course there is different personalities that can be sources of conflict, we will talk a bit more about that. Differences in methods, styles, how you act; different methods often clash and we are all people, there are differences. So these all can be sources of conflict. There is conflict of interest, differences in values, and of course there is difference in the lens with which we see what’s going on, that can a source of conflict. And we will talk a bit more about that as well.

And then, just using the same old solutions over and over and over again. Maybe they worked, maybe they worked really well at one point. But times are changing, maybe the work situation is changed, maybe your life situation is changed. And you know what, quite old tactic, that didn’t work anymore, and that’s causing the conflict here.

So let’s take sometime to really talk about the conflict cycle. So if you look here on this slide, it starts here at the top. All of us bring our own beliefs and attitudes about conflict. So we come with these beliefs. They can come from how we are raised, how we are taught, our cultures, our communities. Basically, all of our experiences have provided us with data that shape how we think about conflict.

For example, I don’t know, have we seen parents fight like crazy, but we see some win and some lose, or maybe no one wins, and everyone is upset? Have we been exposed to the avoidance of conflict? Perhaps we have been exposed to people who use substances to avoid conflict. People who avoid it, maybe we have seen, maybe the problem just goes away, or maybe it turns into a different problem, maybe the problems gets smaller, maybe it gets bigger, maybe it takes on a whole different shape. But what have our experiences shown us about conflict, does it always end in something really difficult, or maybe we have been part of a debate team where we were engendered with confidence through conflict?

So were we part of a family or a culture where people really hashed it out and talked about, and then in the end, they were closer, more productive, things happened, it was positive. Everyone’s experiences are different, and so that top part of the conflict cycle really is important and it’s important to realize that we all didn’t grow up the same. We all didn’t have the same experiences, and of course, we have different beliefs and attitudes about conflict. And these can even change amongst ourselves depending on our life’s circumstances, our developmental stage, whatever.

So, we bring these in our own mind, our own psychology and then you see the cycle moves along clockwise to the right, conflict occurs. Okay. So, we all have our different attitudes about it, conflict occurs. We all have our own different responses to conflict. So let me just list a bunch of different personal responses to conflict. Think a minute about yourself, think if any of these resonate with you. So some people just, no, nothing happens, what conflict, what are you talking about? Some people just give in. Oh man! You must be right, I’m wrong, forget it, let’s go! Move on! Some people use the silent treatment, right? They just ignore or passively, aggressively ignore, other people seek revenge, right? Conflicts happen and it’s immediately a bit more aggressive. Some people blow up, right, very, very emotional. Some people cry, they turn inward. We all know of some people who make jokes in the face of conflict, some people just complain, some people try to go to an authority, try to get somebody else to help figure it out, some people agree to talk about it, some people don’t, some people try to keep the peace and just try to make that conflicts go away by just making sure that everything is okay and anything to make those conflicts go away.

So think about any of these, there are many responses to conflicts, but also think about that top part of the cycle. How has your life shaped, how you think about conflict, and then of course how you respond? I’m a firm believer that no matter how you respond, it’s probably got some merit, and may have merit in the past, maybe it kept to protect it in some way or you learned in some way, and that does have value. It just might not be working right now or may not be working for everybody else.

So we have personal responses to conflict and those responses have consequences. So we walk away, what are the consequences of that? We punch a wall, what are the consequences of that? Whatever we do leads to a consequence that likely reinforces that thought about conflict. So we may have an idea, I don’t know, conflict needs to have an aggression. We have to act aggressively, we have to yell, we have to become physical, the consequences maybe that someone is hurt, this may stabbed in our thoughts. See, conflict is bad. People always get hurt.

On the other hand if we believe conflicts can facilitate change, we may agree to talk unreasonably about it, which then may lead to actually solving a problem or bringing relationships closer. And then, that’s going to reinforce that thought that a conflict can be a good thing. So you can see how our beliefs change the way we act, and the way we act leads the consequence, but whatever we’re believing is likely to sort of perpetuate this real and really stamp it in.

So, in some there’s this vicious or beautiful cycle that occur here, but it cycles a thought, and as we sit here, I wonder if you can perhaps drum up some curiosity about the idea. If you don’t have it already the conflicts can be good. Just have simple curiosity versus a slammed door when it comes to conflict could impact how you feel which will change how you act, maybe shift things around for you. It comes under attitude, and two things that seem to impact attitude are that pull that a lot of us have to just personally attack the other person during conflict, maybe there is a pull that they humanize the other person’s opinion. We may call names and attack in some other ways, that seems to just make the conflict worse.

The other is a fierce need to justify our own actions which can be blinding. If we are stuck only in the idea that we have to justify why we are right, that can be counterproductive, we get stuck in our own thought and that may in turn make the other person more deeply try to justify theirs. And in the end, I think really changes, if not, escalating the conflict.

So let’s look a bit about different conflict management styles. So the social psychologists have identified some of these styles here, and they include the turtle, otherwise known as the avoider, the shark, the teddy bear, the fox, the owl.

So, if you are the turtle, you are the avoider, right? You just not want to go near, you are going to decorate into that shell. The shark will be the competitor, right? The person who may use aggressive tactics to sort of win, to get it done. The teddy bear, maybe the kind of person who says, I value the relationship better, more than I value my rightness or wrongness here. So I am going to accommodate you.

What happens here is well that can sort of -- it’s a bit of a more sophisticated style than the avoider, because the person does think about their own thoughts and does think about the conflict, but often if they are always accommodating, it can build some resentment and sometimes that can turn into resentment and teddy bear becomes a bit different.

The fox is a person who really values compromise. Okay. Here is conflict, so I’m going to give this to you, I am going to take this and we are both going to compromise and we are both going to get a little something, and we are both going to lose a little something, and this is how we’re going to deal with conflict.

So you can see that, yeah, okay. So that could be helpful, because we each get a little bit of something. But on the other side, it can be helpful for achieving temporary settlement in complex issues. So it may not actually produce the best solution or promote creative thinking.

But this final style here, the collaborator, this time it’s a person who says, okay, like the fox, I win and you can win, but it’s used to really satisfy both concerns and find a mutually beneficial outcome in a different way where relationships are strengthened, everyone wins. We really kind of dig deep into the issues. Confrontation is welcomed but there is values and concerns about all the different opinions. Like the fox means give and take, right? It’s sort of more temporary in that way and not super-creative, whereas the collaborator approach is more creative.

So the negative to that is, well, it’s time-consuming, right, maybe this situation isn’t appropriate for taking all of that time. It just might not be practical or it might be ideal, might not be practical.

Well, now that we have all been thinking a bit about, hmm, what is our conflict tendency, what’s our conflict style? Are we the kind of person who wants to negotiate, are we the kind of person who really wants to dig in? Are we the kind of person that is going to avoid and can just avoid the conflict altogether? Are we guys that will be the shark, are we drawn towards competition, dominance, power-plays, which might actually get the job done, but maybe at risk of losing too much.

So now we are just sort of thinking about what type of person are we mostly when it comes to conflict? Let’s think a little bit about the systematic process to dealing with conflict? Maybe now even thinking about, oh heez! My go to approach may not be the best in all situations, maybe I am kind of curious about a different way to handle it.

So let’s think about how that might actually happen for us? So first, what you would do is analyze the situation, really taking the time to think about your own personal goals and feelings here. So a conflict, our potential conflict arises, and you think, all right, what you really need here, what do you really feel here? You maybe triggered by the conflict in an emotional level and want to win, but what do you really need? Do you really just need to attain a skill, get a task done or get out of there by 5 p.m.?

So, you have to analyze your thoughts and feelings, but also think about the other person’s perspective. What do they really need here? Is there a way that you are judging them or carrying assumptions about them? So this does take some time to really disentangle your own thoughts, your beliefs, your triggers, taking a little bit of time to consider what the other person’s thoughts and feelings, and perhaps their triggers here? But I would encourage you to take this time before entering the conflict. You’ve got to know your values, you’ve got to know your blind spots, and once you do that, you might be more prepared to handle this in a way that really leads to the best outcome.

So after analyzing your situation, let’s plan a strategy. All right! So you’ve heard a little bit about different ways people handle conflict, what might be the best strategy here? So think about your goals and the other person think about how they might clash, but also think, wait a minute, is there a shared goal here? Do we actually want the same thing? Do we even think this problem? Are we defining it in the same way? Maybe we at least have some similar feelings about this situation.

So trying to figure out how to make a more neutral place to start really is key. So let’s together first identify where we differ, where we disagree, let’s just put that out on the table. This can at least give everyone a preview of the barriers and potential roadblocks. It’s better to know these ahead of times you can anticipate them. You may say to yourself, okay, this is going to be a point of contention here, I am going to need to call upon my more rationale mind when this comes up, so I don’t get too emotional and take over here. So, in this sense we can plan for the best approach and there won’t be unexpected surprises if we put it out there on the table.

You might also want to think about your past experiences. There would be approach you are thinking about, worked with a similar kind of person or a similar situation, so gather that data and think about, hmm, am I trying the same thing over and over again and it doesn’t really work or actually this worked in the past, it might be have to work here as well.

As you prepare your strategy, think about what style makes the most sense. So is it the compromiser, is it the collaborator? How much time are you willing to devote, and this sense you really take a time to think about what’s the size of this problem? Is this a really all bells and whistles kind of problem, or is this really a problem where you don’t need to devote all this time and energy, maybe it’s just not that important?

So figure it out, and then rehearse what you are going to do. Practice in your head, on paper, maybe practice the role play with somebody who’s willing to do that with you. If you are the kind of person who is not comfortable in conflict or standing up for your belief, or you find that you might relinquish or on the other hand become more aggressive, I really do encourage trying it out, trying up with other style. It may not come natural, but you can get more used to it through behavioral practice. Always try to keep in mind one main goal, so avoid kitchen sinking it. If anyone is really interested in a different, a really nice tactic for getting what you want in conflict is the style that’s called behavior strategy, called DEARMAN, each letter in that acronym D-E-A-R-M-A-N, each letter stand for something to think about.

So quickly, the D means Describe what you want. E is Express yourself, don’t be afraid of your feelings and if you express them in a controlled way. The A is Assert your wishes. I want you to or I want the situation to be. Don’t be aggressive of course, but assert your wishes. The R would be Reinforce what you like or appreciate about the other person. This is my sort of butter up letter there, where you say, I really appreciate how committed you are to me or to this job or whatever it is. I really throw in there something that you do appreciate. M is Mindfully stay on point. So again, don’t kitchen sinking. We all can become sort of overwhelmed with the argument when it’s happening, try to stay on point. Talk about this one thing. So knowing ahead of time what your goal is can really help in that situation. A is Appear confident, right? Stand up straight. Be mindful of your posture, look the person in the eye, and then N might be a Negotiation. So, really trying to think about, all right, how can we both stand here for this mutually agreeable end to this conflict?

So finally, it’s go time, right? You got to implement your strategy. So if you do this it’s really helpful to keep a few things in mind. So just like DEARMAN acronym, mindfully stay on topic, tone is really, really important. So be mindful that the constructive and positive tone, how you say it is just as important as what you say. Try to establish a common ground. You both really want the same thing here, try to stay focused on that. Use good communication skills. We will talk a more in depth about the specifics over the next couple slides. Really define the issues, try to use empathy as you are talking with the person. Really work toward putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. What would it be like to be him or her here?

Other cultural situational personality factors that may justify his stance or at least the way he or she is acting, really try to brainstorm alternatives that can be helpful in coming up with a satisfactory agreement.

Finally, let’s plan for some follow-up. So part of this strategy is really making a point to say, okay, we may have come to a decision here, let’s follow up tomorrow at a specific time or next week, really closing that loop can be important. People tend to forget it, I wouldn’t. I put on your list of reminders, just check back in. Did it work? Did it goes plan, because at least in approximation of what is planned.

So what is ethics in effective communication? We have talked a bit about some of these, but again explaining your concerns in a descriptive to non-judgmental manner, supply only relevant data, again, right, mindfully staying on topic and using I statements.

So rather than saying things like, you always blah, blah, blah… you can say something about I noticed that when I talk, you don’t look at me in the eye, or I noticed that you are coming into work late. So just instead of saying the you, start with an I. I noticed, I find, you really -- it’s a big difference. I noticed it a lot when I’m working with couples and families that when we are able to shift from the “you” statements, which in general a lot of blame, put people on the defense. When you say essentially the same thing but starting with an “I” statement, it really can make communication much more effective.

Effective listening is another really, really important part. Communication is two ways. So effective listening isn’t just listening, it’s showing that you are listening. So labeling another person’s feelings can be really important. It sounds like you’re angry, annoyed, frustrated, sad about this, and in this sense, maybe you have got it wrong, maybe you have got it right, but it gives them an opportunity to say, actually, I’m not angry, I’m actually really scared, and then you can actually get the communication can become more clear if you give a little bit back saying, it sounds like you feel this way.

Repeating and rephrasing key points is again really important. It can be hard to pull these out, but if you do or at least try it can show good effort here. So try and gather the main points. So hold on here, it sounds like you are feeling dismissed because I didn’t answer your e-mail. You’re upset that I am not going to take on this project. So really trying to repeat or rephrase can truly change the dynamics of communication. A person feels like you get it, they are going to feel less likely that they need to really drill in their point and it stays there, stays for more effective communication.

And finally asking open-ended questions. Often we are forced to say things like, do you want me to do it or not? Instead what are your thoughts about me doing so and so, or, what are your thoughts about me putting more energy toward ______? So that way you can really drum up more information with which to solve some of the situations that you’re having.

So some successful conflict management tips, because it’s going to happen, so with a little anticipation and preparation, learning how to handle it, we actually can become more interpersonally effective at work or at home. So with codes and strategies, let’s review a few and get a few more specific. So really if things get too heated during a confrontation, which they may just take cooling off time out. It can emphasize enough that you need to take the time that emotional brain that may have a good -- it’s there for a reason, it’s just may not be helpful right now. So taking time to cool off, try not to stereotype the other person, he or she as an individual. Listen with an open mind. Again, focus on the current issues. Remember, that other person wants to be heard just like you do. Try to separate the problem from the person. Again, use “I” messages instead of “You” messages. The “I” leads to more openness, the “you” tends to put people on the defense. Discuss one issue at a time, really make an effort to stick with one topic, and be specific when you introduce an issue.

Take time to consult your real thoughts and feelings before speaking. As I said before, no matter what your style is, whether it would be the aggressor, or the person who tends to get more angry or assaulted even or whether you are the person that wants to avoid, take time to really understand, be curious about why you may be like that and appreciate that at some level probably it probably is keeping you, has kept you physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe.

So just understand that because that may lead more space for you to actually change to adapt to the here and now when you are safe, and that situation will cause you more of a problem to act in that way.

Don’t just complain for the sake of complaining like a specific proposal requesting a reasonable change. Try to stay in the present, in the here and now. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t assume you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Really ask and listen.

Be assertive, don’t apologize for your feelings or opinions. Many people do this. They go the other way, they back-paddle and at the end they just feel dis-empowered. So be assertive, but not attacking. Don’t blame or call names. It may be easy to slide into that or really try to avoid it. It’s not productive.

Choose a good time and place to confront someone. No hit and run. No as the hands on the door, they are running out or you know they are in a rush. It’s just not a good time. Imagine what it would be like for you and how you -- what space you see to be in to really think about changing.

Include positive statements and feedback along with the negative, but make sure those are authentic. People know when you are just kind of saying things to say them when you really want to give them the bad news. So take some time to think about what you really do appreciate about that person if you can.

So points to remember. Conflict is normal, it’s a healthy part of life. Our belief and our attitudes, how we grew up, how we were raised, our cultures; they affect how we act when a conflict occurs, and a healthy and positive attitude about conflict is the one that preserves dignity and self-respect.

If all parties work to solve the conflict to their mutual advantage, in the end there actually can be a win-win situation to conflict.




By Kris Hooks, MEd, LPC, LMFT, CEAP, and Rachel Pauli, MA, CHES ©2017-2018 Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please contact your human resources department. ©2018 Beacon Health Options, Inc.



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