The other day, my friend and I were driving home when I thought he did something that I wasn’t particularly fond of. Within about 30 seconds, I raised the issue and explained why I thought it was problematic. He responded by providing his rationale, some context that partially changed my belief, and then apologized for how it was perceived. I apologized for making a partially incorrect assumption, and we concluded with a path moving forward.
The scenario, as laid out above, is quite cryptic. The point of interest, however, was our ability to resolve the conflict openly, and in a timely manner. By the time we rolled through the stop sign, we were cracking jokes and back to roasting each other. It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t as formal or rigorous as laid out here. This was only a systematic breakdown of how our casual, swearing-filled, roast-fest of conversation went.
Conflict resolution is one of the most important aspects of your relationships. There tends to be great focus on minimizing the start of conflicts, but conflicts are inevitable. Instead, we should prioritize our ability to resolve them effectively when they do occur.
I don’t have a recipe for resolving conflict, but here are a few thoughts.
For effective conflict resolution, assume the other person has positive intent. Give the person the benefit of the doubt and presume the conflict is justified.
Work together to agree on what the problem actually is. Often the root of many conflicts is miscommunication and not understanding the problem in the same way.
Something as easy as, “I think the problem is […]”, can help provide a surface area to start a healthy discussion.
The conflict is independent of the people involved. Remember you’re working towards solving the problem, not arguing with another person. This shift in mindset can mitigate combative behaviour.
If Alice starts a fire and Bob walks in, the focus shouldn’t be on why Alice started the fire. It should instead be: There’s a fire—how can Alice and Bob work to put it out.
Because our conflicts usually involve us, it’s easy to attach our identity, self-worth, and pride to them—our ego gets in the way.
Remind yourself that we’re all fallible. We’re all capable of making mistakes and we’re all able to learn. It’s much easier to resolve conflict when the worst (or best) outcome is you learning something and improving yourself.