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How to Manage Conflict. Effectively respond to and resolve conflict.

Updated on January 24, 2013
Pointing the finger of conflict
Pointing the finger of conflict | Source

Responding to Conflict

Personal, family, professional and neighbourly relationships all have the potential to bring joy and happiness into our lives – however the other side of the same coin is the big C word – conflict.

For many conflict is something to be avoided at all costs, for others rushing headlong into the fight is the way to go.

Conflict can be a healthy measure of trust and safety within a relationship, the absence of conflict does not necessarily mean peace and harmony.

Understanding how we respond to conflict and our conflict style will help with managing situations when conflict arises and respond to those situations more effectively.

By understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict we will gain clearer insight and potential solutions to the problem.

By understanding our conflict style we will gain insights into the consequences of that style and the impact it may have on future conflict situations and decisons about how to resolve the problem.

Answer the questions below as honestly as you can and then read on.

My conflict style is - select one or two that apply to you

See results

I respond to conflict by - select one or two that apply to you

See results

Thoughts, Feelings and Physical Responses to Conflict

These responses are an important window that can tell us more about the perceived threat we are unconsciously experiencing when faced with conflict. Understanding how and where these thoughts and feelings come from gives valuable insight into best potential solutions to the problem.

  • Emotional Responses are often misunderstood. Oftentimes we believe or others believe that the other person is feeling or experiencing the same feelings. The result may be confusion or feeling threatened by the differing emotional responses.

Example: When asking for time off the employee believes that his/her boss will be angry or deny the request just because. The employee is defensive in his/her ask and the boss perceives entitlement or lack of respect. The request may be refused because of the mis perceptions of both parties.

  • Physical Response can include sweating, physical tension, breathing problems and nausea. Using mindfullness and creating a calmer environment will help manage these symptoms and reduce the emotional response likely to accompany the physical response.

Example: When you start to feel the physical response take a break from the situation - maybe a bathroom break, a few minutes of fresh air, bring your thoughts to something that you are looking forward to later in the day or a place you enjoy that is relaxing.

  • Cognitive Response is the thought that occurs when faced by a potential conflict situation.

Example: You receive an email from someone demanding you do something that you do not think is fair - you think "what a jerk". Being mindful of that first thought, the emotional and or physical response that goes with it can prevent an escalation into high conflict.


Bringing it all together - Managing Conflict Effectively

Being aware how we respond to conflict and our conflict style affords us the opportunity to figure out what works best and which to choose in different situations. This is an example how moving to a different conflict style and understanding an initial emotional and physical response can help create closure and prevent the cycle of avoiding or escalating conflict.

A personal example: A professional relationship went sideways because of a disagreement regarding payments. The work had been paid for but the person contracted to do the work attempted to extort additional monies and make threats. Given that money is a sensitive area there was a strong physical (palpatations) and emotional (overwhelmed) response. The first instinct was to avoid conflict and pay the money.

Thinking through the history of using avoidance or compromise in conflict situations led to an understanding that there would be no closure and there was potential for ongoing feelings of resentment which would lead to a cycle of further conflict or mishandling future situations that involved money.

Using a cognitive response and writing a frank email offering collaboration reduced the fear of conflict and created balance and relief. The collaboration did not include an offer of further payments. The other party initially did not wish to engage and remained positional (competing).

Taking action to block further email correspondence created closure. The actions of the other party have no impact. Preferably both parties collaborate but when this is not possible choosing to close communication having offered collaboration is a reasonable option. In this case, after a short period of time the other party "found" they had made an error and sent an aplogy by email.

In some cases collaboration will be accepted after time has passed . In the above case, this led to an apology and retraction of the financial demand without further professional collaboration.

Steps to Resolving and Managing Conflict

  • Reflect to understand the physical/emotional/cognitive response you are experiencing
  • Try not to react to the perceived feelings and check out what is really happening
  • Make time to consider if the conflict style is the best option in the circumstances
  • Accept that your chosen style may not be accepted or matched by the other party
  • Ensure that closure is achievable even if the other party is still be in conflict about your decision
  • Accept and own your decision. Permit future opportunities for collaboration in the case of unfinished business.


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    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Michele Travis thank you so much for your kind comments and voting up.I'm glad the information is useful.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Thank you writing this hub. I learned a lot from it. The information in it is very good, and I hope more people read it. Voted up!