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Resolving Conflicts Constructively – Trust Me, It’s a Thing!

traffic-lights-466950_1920People deal with conflict every day of their lives. Conflict stripped down to bare bones is merely a clashing view on a particular topic. However, most of us when we hear the word conflict we think, yelling, name-calling, slamming doors, silent treatment, cold-shoulder, avoidance, etc. Conflict does not have to be this way. You can have a conflict with someone and through listening, discussing, negotiating, and empathizing you can resolve the conflict constructively. The constructive way to resolve conflict seems far fetch, doesn’t it? I thought so in the beginning when I first started to learn about conflict resolution.

The reason I believe that we find the concept of constructive conflict resolution so improbable is because we have never seen it done properly. We often learn from the world around us how to manage conflict, and most often our examples do not do it well. Think about what your household was like growing up, did your parent’s communicate well? Try to remember a time when there was a disagreement, did they yell over top of one another? Speak in absolutes, “You always cut me off, why should I listen”? Or did they do the opposite, where rather than discussing it at all they simply gave one another the cold shoulder and then eventually at some point the conflicts resolved? How your family managed conflicts growing up is likely how you approach conflicts today.

Changing how you approach conflict can be tough especially if you do not have any idea how to go about doing it. What if I told you there is a way to resolve your conflicts constructively for little or no cost? Community mediation is an awesome resource that many people do not realize is available to them.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process involving a neutral third party that facilitates communication between two or more opposing parties in hopes of achieving reconciliation and resolution.

Mediation allows both sides the opportunity to be heard and also to control the outcome of their conflict as opposed to going to court where a lawyer will speak for you, and a judge determines the outcome. Mediation is also a much cheaper option than going to court where costly fees for lawyers and such can rack up quickly.

What is community mediation?

Community mediation centers exist in just about every one of the fifty states. Many centers serve specific communities and regions within their state. They are often free or low-cost, efficient and timely in regards to scheduling and availability, and most often voluntary meaning, you are in charge of the process and can stop mediation at any time. The mediators that facilitate your conflict are often volunteers that have gone through your center’s particular training program. They are neutral third parties, which means they are unable to take sides or give any advice to you. Also, mediators are bound by a confidentiality agreement. The best and most important thing I believe about this service is it is your process; you are in control; the mediator is simply there as a guide.

What’s the point of having a mediator present if they are only facilitating and can’t tell me what to do?

Just the presence of another person who is neutral and unattached to the conflict can change the entire dynamic of the disagreement and how the parties approach one another. We tend to behave better when another person is present. The mediator will ask questions and will use reflection to assist one side in further clarifying their feelings, needs, and wants to the other side. When we are entrenched in our conflicts, we often say things we don’t mean, by having a neutral third party there to parrot back to you what you just said it gives you the power to edit and rephrase your message in a clear and concise way.

The most amazing thing about all of this is once you witness constructive conflict resolution, you’ll have the tools and be more mindful of what to do in future conflicts to achieve the same results.  Consider the option of reaching out to the community mediation center in your area next time you experience a conflict and take advantage of a service that could help make your life easier! In fact, we have some podcasts on community mediation. Listen now!

 

Abigail R. C. McManus M.S. Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger/ Host

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The Conflict Paradox – Avoiding It Creates It

approach-avoidance-conflict

Conflicts play a fundamental role in human interactions whether with your closest friends, at home with your family or even in the work environment. We have all experienced conflict in our lives and yet each of us views conflict very differently. Different perspectives and situations actively shape the way we deal with conflict. There are many unique and personal definitions. In order to understand these varying views and perceptions, I decided to interview a few members of the community. I asked them what they thought conflict was and what it meant to them.

“Conflict is something that causes an unprecedented problem and makes for hard decisions. It means that people aren’t on the same page and have different views, beliefs or cultures.”

“Conflict, for me, is a serious argument that has the potential to escalate into something more violent.”

“To me, conflict is when a disagreement or obstacle gets in the way of something you are trying to achieve.”

“Conflict, to me, is when two or more parties have some type of disagreement that needs to be resolved through a type of negotiation. I think the spectrum level could run from something minor to a full out war.”

“Conflict is part of my daily life at work, as well as in my private life. It’s needed to work out problems, but I personally like to avoid it.”

It is quite easy to see the different ways that the interviewees understand and define conflict in their lives. While one individual sees conflict as an issue of views, beliefs or cultures, another interviewee feels that the conflict is a path towards violence. Similar to the diverse ways to comprehend and define conflict, individuals choose to manage their conflicts in different ways. During my freshman year at Salisbury University, I lived in the on-campus dorms. Over the course of the semester, I started to notice that I got ready at the same time as the student who lived next door to me. We exchanged a few words every morning through some groggy mumbling. After some time though, we talked to each other more frequently and started to have real conversations. However, to my surprise, he decided to ignore me one day. He stopped greeting me in the morning and we did not talk to each other at all. Feeling like I had done something wrong, I decided to stay quiet and let him be. A couple of weeks went by with us silently brushing our teeth next to each other. I started getting frustrated and tried not to care. We barely had any communication until the end of that year when he overheard me talking to his roommate about the situation. Upset by the fact that I was blaming the awkward silence on him, he decided to express how he felt. I learned that he was feeling the same way as me and was confused when I stopped talking to him one day. Both of us spent an entire year not talking to each other because we thought some conflict existed between us. In reality, by us avoiding the situation, we created the conflict.

Our views of conflict impact how we engage in perceived conflict. There are many different ways to manage conflicts. Avoidance is a common method and even one of the interviewees stressed the fact that they would rather avoid conflicts than engage in them. In an online resource titled The Five Conflict Styles, the author, Burrell, discusses how avoidance can be both beneficial and detrimental to a conflict. In some cases, such as when tensions are high in a conflict, avoidance can be beneficial to de-escalate the situation. However, avoidance often means that you hold on to all your discomforts, and since this is counter-productive, it allows for problems to linger unmanaged. Many of us who consistently choose to avoid conflict sometimes fear potential outcomes. Maybe you have had negative encounters in the past when addressing conflicts, and, therefore, you would rather avoid conflict entirely. By staying silent and directly ignoring your needs, as well as the other party’s needs, the conflict does not get managed effectively. That being said, additional conflict styles identified by Ralph Kilmann and Ken Thomas, are Accommodating, Collaborating, Competing, and Compromising. Each style when used appropriately can assist you in engaging in conflict productively.

Check out this previous blog post to learn more about the conflict styles!

Also, if you are not sure entirely sure which conflict style you rely most on, check out the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument to help determine your behavior in conflict.

 

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

 

Reference:

Burrell, Bonnie. “The Five Conflict Styles.” Conflict Management. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

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