One of the problems during a conflict is to lose sight that there is always a solution. Throughout more than 20 years in healthcare management, 6 years running a low barrier homeless shelter for men, and now 2 years as a pastor I have seen a lot of conflict. I have mediated conflict between physicians and executives, homeless men and city government, drug addicted homeless men with their significant others, co-workers, and family members. In almost every conflict there are three ingredients:
- Emotion – This can be good emotion or, too often, bad emotion. The emotion can be driven by history, the topic, false beliefs, accurate beliefs, and how things are heard or perceived. Emotion is always there….
- The issue at hand – This is the reason the conflict arose.
- The desire to win – If there was no desire to win (or be right) there would be no conflict.
When you recognize that in almost every conflict those three ingredients exist you can start to address each to come to a resolution. If any of the three are ignored it can seem as though a solution does not exist. Here are some tips on how to manage conflict when you have recognized those ingredients:
- Nothing is solved when emotions run high. I cannot recall any examples of long term conflict resolution when someone is yelling, angry or course during conflict. Cooler heads always prevail. When resolution is demanded when emotions are high ridiculous solutions tend to be agreed upon that do not last.
- Within all of the noise of the conflict if you cannot describe the issue at hand in a sentence then likely the conflict will not be resolved. While this might seem like an oversimplification, too many times there are arguments around countless details and side stories and similar examples. All of which may be interesting but take the focus off of the simple issue at hand. This requires asking “why” many times, and it may lead you to new areas of misunderstanding but it should lead you to the root of the problem. Without dealing with the root of the problem, the problem will grow back in different ways.
- If we would redefine “winning” as the conflict being resolved and not treat it as a tennis match long term resolution would be easier to achieve. Frequently individuals want to win rather than resolve the conflict. The vast majority of conflict happens with individuals on the same team, yet the team members do not act like they are battling a common enemy. Focus on what matters and stop focusing on who is winning.