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Conflict Resolution Strategies: Skills For Managing Conflict

Updated on September 28, 2015
Blake Flannery profile image

Blake has worked in the mental health field since 2002 educating and inspiring hope on the journey toward recovery.

Conflict can be Good

Conflict causes ill feelings, like an itch that needs to be scratched. It is however inevitable, and individuals can use conflict to their advantage.

Musicians use sustaining chords to create an uneasy feeling before the satisfying resolving chord. Screenplay writers are masters of conflict. Without it, the story sucks, there’s no climax, and no resolution at the end. Artists use conflict in their works to make their art interesting.

Life’s conflicts make life interesting and sometimes funny; if you need an example, just watch any evening sitcom. Learn to deal with conflict appropriately, so you don’t have that awful itch sensation without the tools to scratch it.

Keep Yourself Calm

Don't pull your hair out.  Get to the root of the conflict.
Don't pull your hair out. Get to the root of the conflict.

Manage Conflict: Don't Let Conflict Manage You

Resolving conflict is an important skill to use when working with others, but it is necessary to understand the root of the conflict before using strategies to fix it. One misconception is that conflict is a negative thing; however, conflict is one of the best opportunities to strengthen relationships.

Teams who are able to work through conflict become more likely to succeed in future. Conflict resolution in personal relationships is no different. The best strategies for resolving the conflict are going to depend on the situation. Some conflicts need to be resolved immediately. Resolving a conflict with peers may look much different than resolving a conflict with your boss. And consider the number of people involved.

Conflict Sources

Conflict can occur within ourselves or with others
Conflict can occur within ourselves or with others

Conflict Types

Another misconception is that conflict only occurs between individuals. Internal conflict can cause strife that is sometimes more difficult to identify and resolve. Before attempting to resolve conflict with another person you should be sure you do not have internal conflict. In other words, don’t fight when you don’t even know what you stand for.

Internal conflict is not when you are arguing about one thing with someone when you are really upset about them doing another thing. Internal conflict is the kind that makes you unhappy with no apparent reason. Refer to the illustration of potential conflict sources. Notice that all points written in black capital letters are within your own self or your own actions. Don’t forget that conflict can occur in these areas. Be sensitive to your own personal struggles to avoid projecting problems on others, and creating external conflict with others.

Internal Conflict can make you Anxious

Internal conflict can feel just as bad as conflict with others.  Photo by Sasha
Internal conflict can feel just as bad as conflict with others. Photo by Sasha

Internal Conflict: Conflict within Yourself

You have a goal to become a songwriter and need to buy a guitar, but you are not saving your money for the guitar. You are using your money on frivolous items such as dining out and entertainment.

In this case your behaviors are not in line with your established goal. This creates internal conflict that can produce negative feelings. In this case take responsibility and avoid blaming others. Just realizing the issue may give you enough insight and motivation to resolve the conflict.

Internal Conflict Identification activity:

  1. Write your name in the middle of a blank piece of paper
  2. Surround your name with words that describe you such as: Artist, Christian, Plumber, Giver, Lover, Competitive, etc. Go beyond physical descriptions.
  3. Use another color and write another layer of your goals. Use action words such as: Attend College, Be a good mom, Keep my car clean, Visit my grandparents more, Become a great artist, etc.
  4. Next, use another color and write your behaviors that relate to your descriptions of yourself and your goals such as: I paint every day, I take lessons sometimes, I used to place my art in contests, I change art teachers when they put down my work, and I never paint with other people.
  5. Finally, Draw lines between your descriptions of yourself, your goals, and your actions that are related. For example: Artist----Become a great artist----used to paint every day---- sometimes take lessons----used to enter contests----change art teachers often----Don’t paint with others.

In this example, the person views himself or herself as an artist with the goal of becoming a great artist, but is clearly having trouble with being evaluated by others in different situations. In this case to resolve the internal conflict the person needs to modify goals and/or behaviors. The great solution here would be to create a new goal that was not at first apparent: Allow others to critique my art. The conflict could have been viewed as a conflict with others (everyone who ever gives negative feedback). The pattern of repeated conflict in different situations and settings illuminated the real issue. In this case a new goal and related set of behaviors, allowing others to critique, resolves the root of the internal conflict.

Notice that in this case the solution is to create more specific goals. In other words, to be a great artist is a goal, but accepting criticism is a specific attainable goal that will help the individual achieve the ultimate goal of becoming great. These new insights brought out by introspection result in personal growth and development.

Once the individual has resolved the internal conflict, he or she may need to apologize to those who have been inadvertently hurt as a result. For example, apologize to the art instructor that was cussed out for being honest. Becoming more aware of your own personal beliefs, goal, and values as well as noticing behaviors can prevent future internal conflict. After the internal conflict is resolved and conflict with others exists it is time to incorporate external conflict strategies.

Communication Type Characteristics

Assertiveness prevents conflict.
Assertiveness prevents conflict.

External Conflict: Conflict with Others

Since prevention is always easier than treatment, predicting causes of external conflict will be easier than trying to constantly put out fires. Strategies such as assertive communication can revolutionize relationships with others making conflict obsolete. This is due to assertiveness’s ability to communicate active, respectful, goal-oriented messages. The great thing about assertive people is they don’t easily lose their cool, respond appropriately, and stay to the point. Leaning to use “I” statements and questions will revolutionize interactions with others. Practice these until they become second nature. It is most difficult to be assertive when things heat up, so practice in benign conversation. Eventually, assertive statements will happen even when upset.

Chose now to break old habits, and commit to create new healthier habits. Get your emotions out by exercising, creating art, or singing. Screaming and cussing someone out will not feel good in the long run. So get emotions under control, at least one person must be under control to solve external conflict. Stop blaming, be the bigger man (or woman) and be the leader in your relationships.

Sources of Conflict:

Conflict with others comes from differences. Differences in beliefs, expectations, goals, values, and behaviors make us rub each other the wrong way easily. Just think of all conflict created by these differences in a marriage. For example, one person wants to save for a house, while the other person wants to have fun while they are young. One person values gifts from the other; the other person expects kind words. Conflict will continue until the values and expectations are exposed in each person.

Conflict Management Strategies

Two major prevalent tools exist to resolve conflict: Compromise and Collaboration. Each will be useful in different situations. Considerations include time constraints, number of people involved, relationships of parties involved, and differences of the people involved.


Compromise, the simpler of the two conflict resolution tools, is commonly promoted as the best way to get along and improve relationships. Collaboration, however, is less understood, more underestimated, and rarely used correctly. Compromise in simple terms means at least two parties giving up something in order to get something in return. It is a “meeting halfway” strategy for settling mostly disputes. A great historical example is the Reconstruction ending Compromise of 1877. If unfamiliar, look it up.


Collaboration, on the other hand, is another category of conflict resolution. Collaboration assumes that the conflict is due to differences in people, but it takes a progressive approach to resolution. Collaboration views differences as strengths, includes all parties involved, values delaying quick decisions, demands all parties to be 100% satisfied. Sound way too good to be true? Unfortunately, it is easily missed as an option and prevalently overlooked when used.

Division of labor is a great example of collaboration. For example, we can’t all engineer our own technological gadgets, grow our own food, teach children algebra, and install electricity in our homes. We depend on specialized people to be “different” for the sake of efficiency. We especially find these differences developing in families. One person is good at keeping the house clean and managing money, and another is good at making money and maintaining the family vehicle. These are strengths that make our interactions with others opportunities to create something together that is not possible alone. Great collaborations occur within bands and between artists. Some artists, such as The Stones, have been collaborating for half a century.

Collaboration utilizes differences in skills, and is powered by unity in beliefs, values, and goals by creating something larger than the sum. For this reason it is a good idea to be married to someone who has similar values (i.e. religious, political, monetary) but who has a different skill set.

The team will be unstoppable at achieving their similar goals, holding up their similar values, and practicing their similar beliefs in efficient ways. For this reason collaboration should be used for those who have similar goals. Compromise should be used for those without the connection of similar beliefs, values, and goals. In either case communication will need to occur to find out where the conflict is.

Conflict Management Steps

We need to stop viewing conflict as a road block and start viewing it as an opportunity, just as we might view suffering as an opportunity to help others. This change in goal from one of winning or giving up to one of learning and growing relationships gives new perspective allowing healthy conflict management.

Steps to effectively managing conflict in your life:

  1. Check yourself. Make sure you are not the problem or that you are not taking your own issues out on another person.
  2. Learn effective communication. learning to communicate effectively will help you prevent conflict with others. An example is the use of "I" focused statements instead of "YOU" statements that can be interpreted as blaming and offensive.
  3. Ask Questions. Before talking, ask questions so that you understand the other person.
  4. List possible solutions. This should be done with those involved in the conflict. Do not limit yourself to obvious answers. Try not to vote.
  5. Collaborate. Allow all involved to give input and select the best solution that satisfies everyone. Try not to vote because voting can cause alienation. Compromise if necessary, usually when goals and values differ too much.


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    • ilikegames profile image

      Sarah Forester 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Honestly I think this is a skill that should be taught more wildly, it's an important life skill.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      6 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Internal conflict identification, oh yes. Great information.

    • profile image

      Joel Kyalya 

      8 years ago

      conflict is good; when positively handled can turn into opportunities.


    • The Recruitess profile image

      The Recruitess 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      You’re absolutely right. Conflict is a great time to build a relationship. I just wish more people understood the concept.

    • Blake Flannery profile imageAUTHOR

      Blake Flannery 

      11 years ago from United States


      Thank You


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