Conflict Resolution
August 2010


Conflict in our lives

Generally we feel conflicted when we feel that we are not getting our needs met. Someone is not understanding us, they don't do what we would like them to do, they are not treating us fairly. There are several unhelpful ways of dealing with this. One is to let the incident pass and let resentment build up. Inevitably this leads to an angry reaction to an insignificant event which is confusing to the other person, and/or a deterioration of the relationship. Another is to react in an accusing way and make statements like: "You always...", "You are a .... person", "I don't know why I put up with you". If you find yourself raising your voice to the other person frequently and/or disrespectfully, or feeling unhappy and unfairly treated much of the time then this relationship needs help if it is to last. Ongoing conflict can cause health problems, anxiety, depression, unhappiness.


Possible Solutions

If you are subjected to bullying and abuse at work or at home, then the relationship is not one of equals and you should seriously consider terminating it. There can be good reasons for staying, but know that there is help for people needing to change their circumstances. Ring organisations such as Community Law, Citizen's Advice, Women's Refuge, your workers' union, WINZ.


If you are a person who practices acceptance of others whatever their behaviour, then your needs in terms of another person's behaviour will not be great, and you will either meet those needs yourself, lower your expectations of others, not rely on this relationship for your sense of well being, praise behaviour that you like, allow natural consequences to occur, distance yourself physically,


If you are wanting behavioural change to occur in the other person, and this has not happened using ordinary requests then you need to use assertive negotiating skills.


Assertive Negotiating Skills

There are a number of established models for negotiating an agreeable outcome for all parties. All of them involve some basic tenets. The order will vary depending on the situation, but often it is best to talk about your feelings first:


  • State the actual facts of the situation you want changed,

  • listen to the other person's explanation,

  • show some understanding of why the person might behave that way,

  • talk about how you feel about it - use I statements,

  • ask what they think should happen, say what you would like to happen,

  • find a middle ground that you both agree on,

  • and state a consequence if the agreed behaviour does not happen.


To achieve this you need to note the following:


  • Both parties need to be calm,

  • there needs to be sufficient time and lack of distraction,

  • you need to know what your feelings are: "I feel that your behaviour is inconsiderate" is not a feeling,

  • remember that, if you are talking about your feelings, the other person cannot argue with that - they are yours,

  • be careful not to make any guesses about why the other person behaves that way - it is better to ask them if you think it is important - just state the facts of the behaviour as you see it - never make statements like "you are lazy".,

  • listen to their side of the story, observe how they are reacting and show understanding of their point of view,

  • be prepared to compromise,

  • keep on discussing it until you get an outcome that suits you - be a "cracked record",

  • choose a consequence that you are prepared to carry out if the behaviour does not change,

  • be prepared to revisit the issue if the behaviour lapses back in the future.


You need to do some preparation: You need to be able to describe the behaviour factually, you need to know what your feelings are (eg, frustrated, stressed, humiliated, disrespected), know what outcome you want, have a clear consequence that you are prepared to go through with (don't say "or I will leave" if that is not what you will do). You may need to practice with a trusted friend.


If the discussion becomes heated, remove yourself. Say something like, "lets talk about this again tomorrow when we have both had time think about it more." If the person shows no consideration of your feelings, or understanding of the need to change, then you need to consider whether you can or want to continue to tolerate it. Obviously this will vary depending on the severity of the issue. It might be someone leaving their towels on the floor, or it might be that they put you down in front of other people. Do remember natural consequences - stop picking up towels and washing towels - stop attending functions, or remove yourself if you are being humiliated.


Get a professional to coach you in this either before or while you practice assertiveness, if you are unsure of how to proceed.