The nature of our uniqueness within society and culture at large means we aren’t going to see eye to eye with one another all the time. This can be the source of learning and growth if we’re with the right people and in an environment that supports it. But sometimes, our differences of opinion are what separate us rather than bring us tougher, which can lead to conflict.
When there’s a lack of awareness on one or more sides of the disagreement, it can lead to escalation, which takes you further away from the ultimate goal of resolving the conflict. And this lack of awareness isn’t a lack of capacity. Oftentimes, it’s actually a result of lacking the proper tools to be able to able to handle conflict constructively.
By having a grounding in conflict resolution models, it gives you a framework to pull different techniques and strategies to lean into that can replace the language patterns and behaviours that would normally lead to the conflict escalating. There is no one right or wrong model to use. It depends entirely on your preference and personality. But having an understanding of multiple models will make you far more able to resolve conflict in your relationships.
What Factors Affect Conflict?
To understand how to successfully work in resolving conflict, we first need to unpack what factors contribute to it. By getting to the root core of what actually causes conflict to arise, we can then train ourselves to identify the thematic elements, which allows us to avoid getting sucked into polarised emotions quite so easily.
Contrasting and Conflicting Values: Our values are one of the defining traits that create a divide between us. Or, another way of framing it would be our belief systems. They can cause us to become extremely defensive and abandon logic and reason. But they can also be what helps us define healthy boundaries and what we will and will not accept from other people.
Irritating and Exasperating Living Habits: When we’re in any kind of shared living situation, we need to be mindful of other people’s needs and boundaries within a shared space. We can’t do as we please all of the time. We need to check in periodically and gain consent for some of our more unique routines and behaviours that might not be understood by others.
Unrealistic and Hidden Expectations: When needs and boundaries aren’t clearly communicated, but those needs and boundaries are expected to be observed, this can create repressed emotion, which leads to tension and an eventual blowout. Asking people to conform to unrealistic conditions can also create massive resentment, which also leads to conflict.
Ineffective and Negative Communication Patterns: Communication is one of the primary behaviours that can serve as the trigger point of conflict and also escalate an existing conflict. When we’re unconscious of the language we’re using, it’s so easy to lean into using absolutes, such as, ‘you never/you always,’ and projecting and imprinting our own deficiencies onto others.
Selfishness and Self-interest: Within a partnership, if there is one half that’s constantly doing all the ‘heavy lifting,’ and being the more proactive and responsible partner while the other is self-serving, it will inevitably lead to resentment. If this is left unexpressed in a constructive way, it can and will lead to an emotionally charged surfacing and full-blown conflict.
What are the 3 Elements of a Conflict Resolution?
Or, another way of framing this would be to ask, ‘what is the why of your conflict?’ Why is this issue so important that you’re willing to enter into a dispute over it? And the essence of that question is an invitation to ask yourself what lies beneath the trigger. If you can dissociate from the triggering/offensive act itself, what boundary is being violated? What part of you is being devalued? If you can dig past the surface layer and answer this more nuanced question, it can help take the conversation away from shame, blame and guilt and help you surface what’s come up for you emotionally and how the issue is affecting you. And by working with conflict on the emotional level, takes the focus away from the person who’s done wrong. You take the pressure off of them by focusing on yourself and create an invitation for that person to offer empathy.
The context for alternatives can come in many different expressions depending on the conflict. If you’re in a relationship and your boundaries have been violated, for example, you might like to invite your partner to interact with you in a different way that honours where you’re at. Another example might be if there’s an issue relating to a shared living space. It’s not about one person having control in the dynamic. It’s about finding a compromise that suits both people in which both parties can come away feeling like they’ve not been hard done by. Because the resentment that comes from being suppressed will always lead to more conflict.
One of the main unspoken components of conflict resolution is the effect the accusations we receive can have on our sense of identity. Conflict can often feel personal on both ends of the spectrum. It can serve as the trigger for our core wounds and trauma. But it can also be received as a legitimate attack if the ‘opposing’ partner is unconsciously – or consciously – weaponising information to try and create as much hurt as possible as a way of subjugating and controlling us. And so, the way to help alleviate the descent into the more sensitive and personal realms of identity is to focus solely on resolving the issue(s) you’re facing in the present. One of the biggest ways that conflict can escalate is by surfacing everything we don’t like about a partner that’s been repressed and unexpressed for so long as a way of score-settling and relieving the tension that’s built up for so long.
3 Effective Conflict Resolution Models (You Can Use Right Now)
There are many different approaches to conflict resolution. The following are some of the most effective for working with conflict in relational dynamics.
#1 Conflict Resolution: LEAPS Conflict Resolution
The foundation of the LEAPS method is rooted in reflective listening and is actually an acronym that stands for:
First, it’s important to listen to what’s being offered without bringing in any of your own biases, so you can gain an accurate picture of someone’s fears, frustrations, hopes and desires. So then, you know exactly what their needs are within the context of your current conflict.
The next step is tapping into your partner’s thoughts, feelings and attitudes. This will then enable you to relate to their position in an even deeper way. So you can then reflect back at them so they feel seen, heard and felt.
Once you’re able to empathise with your partner, you can then ask questions that will help them to trust you. And by doing so, you’ll also be able to surface more layers as to why they’re feeling the way they are towards your current conflict.
Paraphrasing is the act of reflecting back at your partner what they’ve shared with you, so they know you’ve received was they’ve shared and also give the chance to hear their own words, which may surface additional layers relating to your conflict. You can do this in chunks.
After receiving the share of your partner, you may then summarise what you’ve received in short form. This helps bring a sense of completeness and that you fully understand what their issue(s) are in working through this conflict.
#2 Conflict Resolution Model: Transactional Analysis
In this model, you’re encouraged to look at the conflict in terms of a transaction. Both you and your partner want to gain something out of the conflict that neither one is willing to offer. Transactional relating is often seen as toxic and unhealthy if it’s the ongoing basis for a relationship. However, it can be useful to bring the phrase in to provide some context through a subtle frameshift in conflict. The intention of transactional analysis is to view our communication and exchanges as transactions. And by doing so, to become aware that within most interactions, we’re either playing the role of the child or the adult. Either passively accepting, or actively offering. In the ‘adult’ role, we tend more towards objective statements, discussions and goals. The ‘child,’ on the other hand, might display emotional reactions and be rooted in excuses rather than reflection.
#3 Conflict Resolution Model: Non-Violent Communication (NVC)
Non-violent communication is a way of engaging in compassionate communication with your partner that can serve as a useful tool for resolving issues that arise. It’s also rooted in the format of active and reflective listening in an ABABAB format. So for example:
Person A speaks.
Person B reflects back their understanding of A’s message.
Person A confirms they were understood (or clarifies, going back to #1).
Person B speaks.
Person A reflects back their understanding of B’s message.
Person B confirms they were understood (or clarifies, going back to #4).
Repeat — go back to #1
The intention of this form of dialogue is to build a sense of trust through mutual listening and reflecting, which leads to a greater understanding of each other’s position. And as the conversation deepens with more layers surfacing, it becomes easier to empathise as the conflict begins to resolve itself, naturally.
5 Conflict Resolution Strategies We All Use (Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
The conflict resolution models we’ve covered so far are more structured ad prescriptive in nature. But within the wider sphere of conflict resolution tools and techniques that are available, there are five conflict resolution strategies we all tend to find ourselves embodying. The Thomas-Kilmann model is based on the premise that we often choose how to act within conflict. It suggests we all have a preferred method of responding to conflict. But we can all find ourselves using each expression depending on the circumstances.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #1: Avoiding
This can also be known as withdrawing and occurs when the discomfort caused by conflict challenges us – and our nervous system – to such an extent that we can’t be fully present. And so, as a result, there’s an intense need to disconnect. It can also be that outcome of ‘winning’ isn’t worth the cost of experiencing the discomfort of working with the conflict in question.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #2: Competing
This is very much the ‘all-in,’ or ‘all or nothing’ approach. If you’re rooted in this expression, there’s the assumption that there can only be one winner in conflict. There has to be a winner and a loser. The attitude that’s brought in is one of assertiveness and singular point of view that doesn’t leave room for any alternative perspectives.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #3: Accommodating
Accommodating is when you take the position got trying to appease your partner. You do your level best to fulfil their wishes. However, this isn’t healthy, either. And just like with the competing strategy, skews the dynamic within the relationship, so the accommodator is really a people-pleaser and isn’t acknowledging their own needs, which can be just as toxic as competing.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #4: Collaborating
When both you and your partner are willing to sit and listen to one another in a non-biased way, you’ve then entered into a mode of collaboration. This is where you can both be assertive and cooperative at the same time. The two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible for both you and your partner to be strong in your needs and boundaries while respecting one another.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #5: Compromising
This style of conflict resolution is where both sides are assertive and cooperative with one another, but there’s a willingness to give ground. Compromising means each person gives up a little bit of something to achieve a peaceful outcome. And while this can be beneficial, it doesn’t always honour the needs of each person which can eventually lead to resentment and future conflict.