Being able to resolve conflict is at the heart of effective communication.  

Conflict is often seen as something bad.  When someone says “conflict,” we think “argument” but instead, if we just think of conflict as a way to have a discussion where many different opinions can be true then it turns into something completely different.  

Think about it this way.  If person A says, “elephants are large,” then person B says, “elephants are grey,” are either one of them wrong?  No, both of them are correct, but oftentimes it is at this point in a conversation where the conflict starts.  Which of these statements is more correct, more relevant to the issue, or more valid?

When you use conflict resolution skills, then both statements are correct, relevant to the issue, and valid, making them something worth considering.  When each statement is worth considering, then the people you communicate with feel validated, valued, and relevant.  When your team feels like their opinions matter, they are more likely to continue communicating to the benefit of your company.  

If you are working your way towards management, and you use your conflict resolution skills daily, you will rise quickly.     

Conflict resolution starts with listening.  Whether you are talking to a single person, or a group of people, make sure that you take the time to truly hear what they have to say, and here is the important part… don’t form an opinion.  

You can practice this step, to begin with, then when you have this skill down, start building on that with the following steps:  

  1. Repeat the goal, and make sure everyone agrees.
  2. Make an effort to understand the perspective of each opinion given by repeating it back in your own words.
  3. Propose a solution that contributes to the goal and takes into account the opinions of others.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until a compromise is struck, or everyone agrees.
  5. Verbally confirm the resolution.
  6. Congratulate everyone on great communication to leave them feeling good about the communication.

You can tell when someone is actually listening to you, so don’t try to fake it.  Active listening involves really imagining how the other person is seeing the issue, and what emotions are involved in that.  Sometimes when you can recognize the emotion under the issue, it is easier to address it.  

Restating the goal, allows everyone to refocus on the priority, instead of their emotions.  This is the easy part – listening, then restating the goal.  The next part, where you repeat opinions back to your coworkers or counterparts in your own words, can be more difficult.  This step can be prefaced with the phrase, “So what you’re saying is…” which makes it easier.  When the other person says, “yes,” is the point where you pause without providing your opinion.  

When you pause, you are showing thought, consideration, and most of all respect.  

The next step is to propose a solution, which validates someone else’s opinion but still contributes to the goal.  This isn’t always easy, and it is okay to say, “I hadn’t thought about that before, let’s discuss this at a meeting tomorrow after I’ve had some time to take that into consideration, and how it affects our end goal.”

There are many different tactics and versions of conflict resolution, but when it comes to communicating effectively, it is important to remember that conflict isn’t inherently good or bad.  Reaction to conflict is what makes it good or bad.  This means that each conflict has a certain point where you make a choice as to how productive the conflict is going to be.  

Each time you walk into a meeting, whether it is a job interview or a normal planning meeting, make it a point to remind yourself that you are the person who gets to make the decision that any conflict that arises is going to be productive and helpful.  

Also, remember that it is difficult to have a conflict with facts, so arm yourself with as many facts as possible before you walk into any situation.  Here is an example of how this works well in a job interview, “Why do you want to work here?”  Your answer should be something like, “According to the latest census data, only 35% of your customers are females.  My goal in this job would be to us my knowledge and experience to provide a unique perspective in the marketing department that will drive sales and increase profit in that market.”  

Practicing conflict resolution and effective communication skills is similar to learning a new language, in order to be truly proficient at it you may want to immerse yourself in an environment where you have to use these skills in a variety of environments.  Conflict resolution tactics can be used in personal relationships, whether that is with a partner, parent, or child, as well as in working and business relationships.  

As long as you are listening, to what someone says, to their body language, their facial expressions, and tone of voice then all of the next steps flow naturally.  

Conflict can be a positive and productive process that is a natural part of effective communication.  It starts with active listening and moves forward with a reminder that everyone in the conversation has the same goals.  From there, conflict resolution is about understanding and repeating the other individual’s opinion back to them and proposing a solution or compromise that moves everyone closer to the goal while taking their opinions into consideration. When everyone is in agreement, make sure you celebrate it!  
Since conflict resolution skills are beneficial to a wide range of positions across many different industries, this talent is invaluable.  We hope that this guide helps you in your career and encourage you to visit us online at www.career2.org for many other valuable insights.