National Multicultural Institute’s nine-step model
In their efforts to "win" and be "right", people often let disagreement escalate into a futile and frustrating struggle for
power. But conflict doesn‘t have to be adversarial. When handled carefully, a conflict can defuse hostility, generate
alliances, and stimulate creative solutions. In the case of confronting an issue that has been ignored or avoided, conflict
can be especially liberating. And the basic tools of conflict resolution can be learned and practiced by anyone. Conflict
is an inevitable part of life; therefore it makes sense to learn some simple conflict resolution strategies.
First, take a moment to reflect on a stressful conflict from your recent past. Then as you review the following guidelines,
mentally compare each suggestion to what actually happened in your conflict. Imagine how things might have gone
differently and pinpoint your particular strengths and weaknesses. Finally, consider how you might adapt your
approach to improve the outcome of future conflicts.
Listen with respect and openness: Before you even begin a discussion, calm yourself and step back from your
emotions. Try not to take the situation personally, even if you feel defensive or under attack. Let go of grudges
and preconceptions so that you enter the conversation with an open mind. Imagine that you are hearing
everything for the first time.
Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective: It‘s easy to get trapped in tunnel vision, in
which we convince ourselves that our way is the only way. Especially if the conflict surrounds a longstanding
problem, it‘s difficult to see things as the other person might see them. But it is crucial to set your pride aside and
really listen. Avoid assumptions and ask questions if you don‘t understand. Verbally summarize what you heard
them say and ask for confirmation or clarification.
Let the other person hear an explanation of your perspective. Explain your viewpoint clearly and
patiently. Make sure to separate the person from the problem. In other words, focus on behaviors or situations
that you want to change rather than personal traits. If you remain calm, use ―I‖ statements and non-judgmental
language, and stick to the facts during this step, then you increase the likelihood that the other person will listen.
Recognize similarities and differences. Part of this involves defining the problem to ensure that you are
talking about the same issue. Too often, people skip this step and simply assume that their respective complaints
or goals are mutual. But it‘s necessary to state the problem explicitly to avoid circling and frustration. Once you
establish that you‘re talking about the same problem, there are always at least one or two points on which you
already see things similarly. If you can‘t find any common ground, you might need to return to step one. As you
identify differences, be careful not to use an accusatory or judgmental tone of voice.
Acknowledge any cultural differences. Sometimes gender, race, religion, and other aspects of cultural
identity and values remain an unspoken but powerful factor in a conflict. It‘s not always easy to bring these into
the open, but open acknowledgment of cultural differences can help define the relevant issues and sort out
underlying unconscious motivations.
Look for common ground. Find something—anything—to agree on, even if it‘s just being able to name a
common goal. Remind yourself that everyone will benefit if you can see this as a cooperative process.
Recommend action. Be creative. Brainstorm as many possibilities as you can without worrying about how to
achieve them. Even outlandish ideas might inspire other, more viable ones.
Determine what adaptations each person is willing to make to find a satisfactory
alternative. Where can you be flexible? What are your priorities and needs? See if you can sacrifice a little to
accomplish your broader objectives. This is when keeping the ―big picture‖ in mind matters most.
Negotiate an agreement. Be realistic. You may decide you need to meet again for further discussion. You may
have to check with other stakeholders to get their approval for your solutions. Or in some cases, you may just
have to agree to disagree. If you find yourself stuck, consider hiring a professional mediator.
In the heat of the moment, it sometimes feels more important to be right than to maintain a respectful, win-win
attitude. But if you approach your conflict with goodwill, calm, and trust in the collaborative process, you‘ll find that
even monumental conflicts can be overcome.
In most cases, conflict is about more than one issue; it‘s about a relationship. Recognize that with a little give and take,
the conflict resolution process has the potential to strengthen your rapport with others. And each successful resolution
will give you the confidence and abilities to negotiate future encounters with ease.