What happens inside you when you think of interpersonal conflict?

How do you approach conflict, and how effective are your conflict resolution strategies?

Many people spend a lot of energy avoiding conflict- sweeping it under the carpet, or pretending it’s not there- and in this way the fear of conflict runs their life. Others react to conflict with impulsive anger, often exacerbating the situation and creating more fires to put out.

Issues and Topics

In the process of transformative communication we emphasize conflict resolution strategies that distinguish between issues and topics. Topics might relate, for example, to disagreements around finances, household tasks, or assignment of responsibilities on a project. Issues could include trust, power, self-esteem and security.

Resolving and Dissolving Conflict

As we cultivate conflict resolution strategies that aim at understanding underlying issues, we commonly find that the topics resolve themselves practically automatically, or even that they dissolve (“What is it we were fighting about?”). Understanding the distinction between understanding and agreement, we come to amicably agree to disagree on topics that previously were the source of bitter contention, because causal issues were not addressed.

Encoding and Decoding

We might conceive of communication as a process where a sender encodes a message that is decoded by a receiver. Communication breakdown is frequently the result of the decoding not matching the intended coding. With that in mind, we can appreciate George Bernard Shaw’s comment, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We act and react on the false premise that we’ve accurately decoded an intended message, and thus tensions quickly escalate.

Studies in labor-management discussions demonstrate that it takes half the time to achieve conflict resolution when all parties agree to accurately repeat what the previous speaker has said before responding. Such commitment to reflective listening represents a conflict resolution strategy that facilitates everyone to understand issues, in themselves and others, underlying contentious subjects.

Conflict Resolution Strategies and Win/Win Outcomes

Utilization of such conflict resolution skills fosters win/win outcomes. Win/win is grounded in the assumption that each of us realizes what constitutes a “win” for the other. This understanding is the foundation for long-lasting resolution of conflict, where conflict is transformed into closeness through high-level communication strategies, and through valuing, rather than disparaging, differences.

In workshops I regularly hear “But David, using these conflict resolution strategies takes much longer.” My response is, “Yes, maybe it does. In the short run.” In the long run, though, it avoids the anxieties and problems created by roadblock-filled communication. For instance, we might spend more time in mirroring and empathic listening so that we understand an employee; his satisfaction though results in a more pleasant work environment where people want to stay. This in turn is likely to lead to higher efficiency and an increase in productivity.

In a study comparing physicians who were sued for malpractice with physicians who weren’t, the quality that most distinguished the group that did not get sued was empathy. The doctors who were not litigated against were not necessarily more skilled as physicians. They were more skilled in confliction resolution strategies, which meant that if an apparent mistake did occur patients were less likely to file suit. We can imagine how much time is saved and anxiety avoided, through empathy-based conflict resolution strategies.

The Courage To Risk

There is, in a sense, risk, in profoundly listening to someone with whom we are in conflict. To employ conflict resolution strategies such as reflection, appropriate silence, non-judgmental open-ended questions, and paraphrasing, means that we put our worldview at risk. This set of conflict resolution strategies entails being sufficiently secure in myself to deeply understand another perspective. That understanding may be a catalyst for my change and growth.

In Transformative Communication, the process of resolving conflicts is an adventure in self-realization, in immersion in the spirit of discovery, in demonstrating the courage to transform conflict into closeness.

Satvatove Institute is renowned internationally for its empathic listening, leadership and conflict resolution skills training.

Dr. David Wolf, author of Relationships That Work: The Power of Conscious Living- How Transformative Communication Can Change Your Life, has facilitated seminars and workshops worldwide, and has been extensively featured as an expert on conflict resolution strategies on media outlets such as Fox News and CNN News.

Below are some video clips where Dr. Wolf speaks about conflict resolution strategies for handling desk rage.


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