5 Skills To Better Manage Conflict

Co-written with Sarah Dukes, Director of Peymac Mediations.

Whether you’re a solicitor or President of your local Spanish Club, you’re bound to run into a conflict of interests, the clash of opinion, or perhaps even a full-blown war with someone at work. Life’s too busy to be putting out fires. That said, occasionally, we can’t avoid bumping into highly flammable people.

We need tools to handle disputes efficiently. Without them, we may feel resentment, anger, and frustration. These emotions stay with us long after the altercation is over and often permanently damages relationships and future relationships as well. Subsequently, this takes our focus, drains our energy and dwindles our most valuable resource, time. So how do we avoid the next Great Fire of London? Fire extinguisher at the ready.

1. Remember cognitive flexibility is essential

The ability to adapt to stressful or challenging situations, and be able to perceive things in a balanced, reasonable way is crucial. For example, if someone approaches you in an accusing manner, it’s tempting to storm off or close up like a clam. It’s natural for us to want to protect ourselves and our position, and the easiest way to do that is to shut down all further discussions.

However, this only escalates the hostility between the parties. Instead, being able to put your emotions to one side and look at the situation in an objective and pragmatic way, will help you respond appropriately and deal with the issue, instead of avoiding it.

2. Practice Effective Communication Skills

Possessing the skills to efficiently and purposefully express our thoughts, feelings and wants in a clear and reasonable manner is essential. Often when in a heated moment, we choke on our words and become unable to communicate concisely. Thinking about what you want to say, and the best way to say it will ensure you get your message across. A clear message helps to avoid those Argh! I should have said… moments ten minutes after the fact.

Using ‘I’ statements and communicating how their actions are impacting you instead of ‘you’ statements, takes the sting out of what you are saying and encourages the other person to reflect on their actions and their impact on those around.

3. Practice Active Listening

It’s not just what they’re saying; it’s also what they’re not saying. Using all of the senses to hear the conversation is key. Use of your senses will help you to understand what they mean to say at the same time. Listening intently can be the hardest part of all. We often hear but don’t listen to people. We’re often busy thinking about what we’re going to say next or caught up on our side of events.

Often, high pressure and tense situations lead us to say things like you never told me that, you’re useless at explaining things! You always put me in these situations. What that might really mean is, I need help with this, I’m feeling out of my depth and I’m embarrassed to ask. Practising listening to the message that isn’t so obvious to understand the real meaning of what they’re saying creates a better understanding of the problem. This is a fundamental step towards creating viable long-term solutions.

4. Have a support system

A solid and trusted sounding board to talk through situations, deepen understanding, change perspectives and brainstorm solutions with is essential. Everyone needs support when dealing with conflict and stressful events that commonly pop up in business. Perhaps they are a colleague, a friend or a manager.

Use someone’s opinion that you respect and someone who has the natural ability or inclination to look at matters in an objective and diplomatic manner. Try and avoid sounding off to someone who you know will tell you what you want to hear, but won’t help you find a resolution. Whilst it’s comforting to have someone who’s ‘on your side’, a one-sided approach won’t resolve anything.

5. Acceptance and Understanding

Conflict and differences will happen, that is a given. It is how we handle and approach them that makes all the difference to the outcome. It is ok to agree to disagree. It’s ok to seek clarification and justification for actions and decisions that are made in the workplace. It’s ok to say I need some time to think, can we talk about this later? If you’re at the receiving end of these comments, it’s important to understand that these queries and comments are not a personal attack.

Rather, they are a tool that people use to understand a situation or event. Creating a safe and nurturing work environment where this approach is supported, respected and understood, fosters a confidence that encourages people to be their authentic selves. This will allows for maximum creativity and enjoyment within the workplace. In turn, this will create a working environment you feel part of and want to belong to.

Mastering the skills to better manage daily disputes and conflicts is a lifelong process. A long-term solution to the conflict is a victory, but not one that involves a great slaughter or public shaming of others. Maintaining a level of equanimity when it’s getting hot under the collar isn’t easy, and does take a mindful and practised approach.

Such practice will, however, enable you to better use your ability to respond without a fiery retort, an angry compilation of insults or avoiding confrontation. In the end, this will make you far more likely to reach a realistic and plausible resolution, as opposed to burned bridges and deteriorating relationships. Now that’s winning.


About Sarah Dukes and Peymac Mediations:Linkedin.jpg

Sarah Dukes is the Founder and Director of Peymac Mediations on the Sunshine Coast. She established the company out of love for her two daughters Peyton and Mackenzie (hence “Pey” “Mac”) and the belief that there had to be a better way for children who were raised in families with separated parents.

Now a successful and thriving family mediation service, Sarah has become a specialist in her field for mediation for separating parents.


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