5 ways to effectively resolve a conflict

Various strategies to deal with a conflict of interest in the most constructive way possible.

The ways to effectively resolve a conflict can vary depending on how the notion of the conflict itself is understood. Likewise, they may vary according to the specific context in which it occurs. For example, a strategy applied to resolve a conflict in the family may not be effective, but it may be effective to resolve a conflict within an organization.

However, the social sciences have offered us different guidelines to generate resolution strategies that are more or less applicable for different contexts. Next, we will see a brief definition of conflict offered by psychology; followed by 5 ways to effectively resolve a conflict that has been proposed by some experts in conflict theories and negotiation.

5 ways to effectively resolve a conflict

What is a conflict?

Organizational psychologist Mary Parket Follet (ct. In Domínguez Bilbao and García Dauder, 2005) defines conflict as the result of a difference, which is, in turn, an interaction of desires. Beyond ethical prejudice (regardless of whether the conflict is good or bad), it is about the appearance of a difference of opinions and interests.

According to Domínguez Bilbao and García Dauder (2005), the understanding of the conflict has had different facets throughout its history. Previously, it was understood and treated as a negative element, and therefore something to avoid. From there, the causality of the conflict was understood from dysfunctional elements, which were later translated into the individual, group, or communicational behaviors and situations.

Subsequently, the conflict was thought from its benefits, that is, from its possible advantages. Since then the conflict has been assumed as an inevitable element within groups and organizations; not necessarily negative but as one more opportunity to broaden the horizons of interaction and management.

5 strategies and tips to effectively resolve a conflict

Theories about conflict and negotiation have been developed in an important way in psychology, especially impacting the field of organizations, but also other areas where interpersonal relationships are analyzed.

In the 1981 decade, American conflict resolution and negotiation experts William Ury, Roger Fisher, and Bruce Patton published a book called Get the Yes. In it, they described 5 ways to effectively resolve a conflict, through negotiation. These forms are still in force to this day and may have application in different contexts. We describe them below.

1. People are not the problem

The conflict has effects at the level of individual experiences, that is, it involves emotions, values ​​, and points of view. In many cases, this is forgotten or no longer prioritized because we focus more on organizational interests. In this case, the authors explain that effective negotiation begins by separating people from the problem, that is, analyzing the problem independently of who we attribute responsibility for it.

To do that, they recommend that we think that conflicts are rooted in one of the following three dimensions: perception, emotion, or communication. Recognize the latter to remain empathetic to others; not to place the responsibility for the conflict on other people, and to avoid emotionally explosive reactions. It can also help us stay focused on our interests so we don’t give in more than is appropriate.

2. The main thing is the interests

In line with the above, the authors tell us that behind the positions that people assume in a conflict, there are a series of interests that motivate us, and sometimes they hide.

If instead of staying firm in the positions we worry about exploring the interests that are behind, most likely we will find that there are both needs and interests shared, and shareable. In turn, the latter allows us to reach an effective negotiation.

In short, since the conflict is above all a confrontation of different interests, it is important to focus on these, rather than on the positions we take individually.

3. Seek mutual benefit

Another of the principles of conflict resolution and negotiation is to generate options for mutual benefit. It often happens that during a conflict situation, it is thought that there is no way that everyone will benefit from the final decision.

This hinders the negotiation process, and in general terms, it occurs due to four fairly frequent obstacles: making premature judgments; look for unique answers; think that the conflict has a fixed form; and think that the solution to the problem is the problem itself. The authors explain to us that through an empathic attitude we can seek mutual benefit. In other words, we can offer negotiation options that are at least partially favorable to all parties.

4. Prioritize objective criteria

The authors recommend that we remain insistent that objective criteria are used from the beginning of the negotiation. That is to say, without dispensing with empathy and “win-win”, we have to be realistic and assume that sometimes there will be differences that are only reconcilable under very high costs, at least for some of the parties. With which, in this case, the negotiation has to be carried out on a basis independent of the wishes of those who are involved.

5. Take into account power relations

Finally, the authors explain that effective conflict resolution may be unlikely in cases where influence, power, and authority are vested in only one of the stakeholders. In this case, the negotiation consists of trying not to agree on something that goes totally against our principles or interests and trying to make the most of the final agreements and decisions, even if they are taken unilaterally.


5 ways to effectively resolve a conflict