Facts for Living: How do you resolve conflict?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

This is the last article in a series about interpersonal relationship skills. When one person’s action or position interferes with another’s, interpersonal conflict can occur. Conflicts arise over goals and aspirations, our expectations of others, and misunderstandings. Conflict is inevitable and anyone in a relationship with another person faces conflict occasionally.

A conflict-free relationship is not a healthy one. Many people think lack of conflict is a good thing. It only indicates that one person is being passive or that the relationship is very distant and cold. Conflict is blamed for divorce, family members being excommunicated from the rest of the family, fights between neighbors, dissention in the work place, and even violence.

When conflict is dealt with constructively, the process strengthens relationships and increases closeness. Handling conflict effectively builds confidence and encourages a willingness to continue to take risks in a relationship.

Many times the distorted view of another’s motives, behavior or position is probably the greatest roadblock to handling conflict constructively. These distortions include:

  • Mirror image. Each person thinks he or she is an innocent victim. Each perceives him or her totally right and the other totally wrong.
  • Tunnel vision. Each person can see clearly the deceitful, biased, or false and vicious acts of others while being totally blind to the same behavior in him or herself.
  • Polarized thinking. This kind of thinking happens when one or both parties have a distorted view of the conflict.

If people allow these distortions to control the way they handle conflict, the issue will probably remain unresolved. Hostility and distorted judgments need to be eliminated in order to work and process the conflict. Here is the process:

Acknowledge conflict to each other. The sooner one person can admit the conflict, the sooner the conflict can be handled.

Both must agree on a time to discuss the matter. No discussion should proceed until both parties agree they want to face the issue now. If one person wants to delay the discussion, both parties should try to set a specific time and place to handle the conflict.

Each person should speak only for oneself and describe the conflict from his or her side. Try to be sure that everything related to the conflict is said and all feelings are expressed.

Next, each person should take turns describing his or her perception of the other person’s position and feelings. This is not a time for rebuttals, name-calling, or debate. Each person is only stating the other person’s position until each person has agreed that the other understands.

After each person is satisfied with the other’s understanding, each party should list all options that come to mind. What can be done to resolve the conflict?

Study and revise both lists until both parties find something they agree to try. There may be several options that fit together in one procedure that both will agree to try.

Agree on a time to come back together again and discuss the outcome and how well the solution fits the persons involved.

Both parties involved may never agree on many of the original points of the issue being discussed. What’s important is that both parties agree on the mutual action to be taken. After two people have resolved a few conflicts successfully, they will be able to use different approaches other than the above mentioned process and will not necessarily need to write down all the options every time conflict arises.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].


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