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Questions to Prepare for a Difficult Conflict Conversation

“Originally published at Ezine Articles.”

Addressing a conflict is never an easy process, but there are specific steps you can take to prepare yourself for a difficult conflict conversation. Ask yourself these questions so you are empowered, focused, productive and constructive during the resolution process:

  1. What are your conflict resolution goals? Most people want the conflict and the suffering to end. Success is not always measured by a final resolution but by a working agreement that changes as the parties grow and rebuild trust. Knowing your goals will help guide the conversation and keep you on track.
  2. Which goals are not within your control? You cannot control another person’s behavior or attitude. Avoid goals that require the other person to change. Focus on what is within your power to change. For example, an effective goal would be to identify behavioral responses you can use when you feel you are being treated disrespectfully.
  3. What are the most important issues to discuss and/or resolve? Think about what is bringing you to the conversation in the first place. The issue(s) is the topic of disagreement. List the issues and then prioritize them from most to least significant. Consider the issues the other person(s) might bring as well. Their concerns might not be the same as yours.
  4. What are your unmet needs and values? Conflict is driven when each party has needs or values that are continuously undermined or unmet. For example, an ongoing conflict may diminish your reputation and credibility within the organization. In this instance, you need to restore and protect your professional identity. Make sure you clearly identify and articulate your needs during the conversation.
  5. What are the other person’s unmet needs and values? Consider the other party’s unmet needs or values. By doing so, you prepare yourself to listen and acknowledge what is important to the other person. The other person’s work ethic and integrity might be what drives them.
  6. What key messages do you want to deliver? Think about important impact statements you need to make to the other person for them to hear and understand your perspective. For example, “I don’t hate you. The morale of team members has been negatively impacted by your aggressive behavior.”
  7. How do you want to behave in these conversations? In other words, think about how you want to act when the conversations get uncomfortable or your hot buttons are pushed. If your intention is to be respectful and calm, create a strategy that will help support these behaviors even if you are emotionally triggered.
  8. What do you do or say that might trigger the other person? Identify behaviors, attitude, body language or tone that can cause the other person to react to you. For example, if you tend to use a sarcastic tone, produce an unpleasant sound or say in a raised voice “You should have known better!” then prepare in advance to communicate your message in a way that can be heard without triggering the other person.
  9. What obstacles might interfere with a productive conversation? Reflect on the barriers that can hinder this conversation. Typical examples include past history, false assumptions about the other person’s intent, blaming and shaming behaviors, erroneous information, not listening or expressing yourself, and not having the right decision-makers at the table.
  10. What, if any, topics are off limits to these conversations? Some issues are not appropriate to bring to the table and can derail a difficult conversation. For example, sexual harassment accusations or discrimination complaints from years ago or hearsay issues from other non-involved parties should not enter the discussion.
  11. What questions remain unanswered? Make a list of open-ended questions that require answers or clarifying information. Be purposeful and allow the person to fully answer the question before responding. This will demonstrate your curiosity, help gain understanding from their perspective, and give you the missing information you need.


Patricia “Pattie” Porter, LCSW, AAP
Author/Radio Host/Conflict Management Specialist
The Texas Conflict Coach®



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Make This New Year A Conflict Resolution Knockout

New Year Conflict Resolution

The time has come and the New Year is here! It’s fine, get excited. I’m sure you have great things in store.  I also know the New Year can overwhelm many of us with unresolved conflict. You go into the New Year with the same drama from the previous year, with unclear solutions and past grudges. You make new resolutions but with no steps to get you there.

Conflict is important in our lives because it is an opportunity to communicate our unmet and unheard needs. Think about how unresolved conflict affects your life and the people around you. Why are you dragging existent conflict into the New Year? Do you have a family member you never made up with? A negative situation that happened during Thanksgiving which you haven’t addressed? An ongoing feud with a coworker? Or even a problematic neighbor? All these situations create conflict in your life and you deserve to address them in the New Year, with a new or more effective approach.

So, what are your plans for managing and resolving conflict in the New Year? Each year you make a promise to yourself, you set goals…to do something better, less, more or implementing something you never did before. Most of the time you make these decisions because you want to improve yourself, your life or the situations around you in hopes of positive outcomes. You make the common New Year’s Resolutions like lose weight, stop smoking, less drinking, eat healthier, get a better job, save money and spend more time with family with friends. While all those things are very important, what about the conflict in your life or surrounding it? What will you do differently to change the way you handle conflict in 2014. Any goals?

For Starters…

  • ·         Be willing to communicate. Extend the welcome that you are committed to something different.
  • ·         Prepare to listen.  Listen for feelings and important information from the other person.
  • ·         Do not assume anything.  Ask the person you are in conflict with to explain their intention or motivation.
  • ·         Utilize your resources. . Ask for help from a mediator, Human Resource professional, or even a mutually trusted friend
  • ·         Accept differences. It’s okay to have different opinions and interests.

Tips for managing and addressing Conflict for the New Year (Adapted from Beyond Intractability)

  • Actively Listen. Pay attention to what the person is saying and ask for clarity.
  • Speak directly to the person who needs to receive the message. Give that person your full attention.
  • Speak from your perspective. If the message involves addressing your co-worker’s many long breaks, let the co-worker know how that impacts you or your work environment
  • Speak for a purpose. Plan out what you want to say and focus on it. This will keep you from rambling when you deliver the message.

 Conflict is often due to misunderstanding, ineffective communication and having different interests or needs. This New Year you can learn how to improve those things. Make this New Year a conflict resolution knockout! For more information listen to our past podcasts How to SOLVE Your Conflicts and Become Conflict Competent: Your New Year’s Plan.

 By Tierra Henry, Graduate Student, University of Baltimore



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