Resolving Conflict

by Stephen Boyd | October 15, 2005

Handling Conflict is not Communication 101; it is a graduate seminar. It is not easy to talk and listen in conflict. Some people will avoid conflict at all costs because of how unpleasant it may be. But as humans, there are times when we must deal with conflict. Here are some suggestions on how to communicate under such circumstances.

Seek to control your emotions. When you are emotionally involved because of anger, frustration, or disappointment you may find it difficult to listen. Usually, when emotions are high, communication is low. You may want to postpone communicating for awhile when emotions are high. Set up another meeting or phone conversation so you will have a chance to cool off. One of the ways to control emotions is to be issue-centered, not personality-centered. When you respond to the personality instead of the issue, the conflict is more likely to escalate than to be defused.

Seek areas of agreement. There is something you can find to agree on if you converse long enough. In a business situation, both the worker and the boss realize that the company has to make a profit to survive. In a family situation you want what is best for the person or the children or the marriage. Look at the broad picture to find areas of agreement. Then when you come to an impasse, return to where you agree. Generally you will not have to go back as far as you did earlier. Eventually, by going back to the areas of agreement you will be able to reach resolution.

Seek to use positive language. Never, for example, tell another person they are wrong—even if they are! This negative language will cause the person to go on the defensive and start justifying his or her position, rather than to find a good solution. Avoid words such as "stupid," "dumb," or "ridiculous" when referring to the other person’s ideas or solutions.

Seek to build credibility with the people you work with because eventually you will have a disagreement. If you have high credibility with the other person, you can discuss an issue longer and with less defensiveness because of the depth of the relationship you have developed. Small talk and talk about family and special hobbies on a routine basis can hold you in good stead when conflict does occur.

Resolving conflict is not easy, but when you reach agreement you will be glad you made the effort; the business, family, or friendship will benefit.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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