Conflict Resolution in Nine Easy Steps

  • Define the conflict.
    If defined objectively, rather than subjectively, which is how most of us do it, conflict means only this: We need a new way of doing things, the old way has failed. If two sides can define what they are fighting about, the chances increase that misperceptions will he clarified.

  • It is not you against me; it is you and me against the problem.
    The problem is the problem. In a battle, even if one side does win, the first reaction of the loser is, I want a rematch: I will come back with meaner words, harder fists and bigger bombs. Then the enemy will learn, then they will be good and then we will have peace forever. This is an illusion, hut few can give it up. By focusing on the problem, and not the person with the problem, a climate of cooperation, not competition, is enhanced.

  • List the relationship's many shared concerns and needs, as against one shared separation.
    In Ernest Hemingway's novel, "A farewell to Arms," a character is described in a hauntingly beautiful phrase, "He was strong in the broken places." All of us have been, are being or will be broken by life. If we are strong in the broken places, chances for mending increase. They will increase if the strengths of the relationship -- the shared concerns and needs -- are given more attention than the lone unshared separation.

  • When people have fought, do not ask what happened.
    This is an irrelevant question. They will answer with their version of what happened, almost always self-justifying. The better question is, "What did you do?" This elicits facts, not opinions. Misperceptions are clarified, not prolonged.

  • Work on active listening, not passive hearing.
    Conflicts escalate when partners try to talk more than listen and then only listen as a time-out for verbal rearming. Listening well is an act of caring. If you are a good listener, you have many friends. If you are a poor listener, you have many acquaintances.

  • Choose a place to resolve the conflict, not the battleground itself.
    Armies tend to sign peace treaties far from war zones. Too many emotions are there. In some schools around the country, peace rooms are in place. Anyone who was fighting -- in the schoolyard, the halls, the bus -- automatically knows to go to the peace room at the time set. Who will be there? Mediators: classmates who have been trained in nonviolent conflict resolution. Principals and psychologists in schools that have peace rooms see the results in lower rates of violence.

  • Start with what's doable.
    Restoration of peace cannot be done quickly. If it took a long time for the dispute to begin, it will take time to end it. Work, on one small doable rather than many large undoables. Almost always, it is a laughably small wound that causes the first hurt in relationship. But then, ignoring the smallness lakes on a size of its own. Ignoring the problem becomes larger than the original problem.

  • Develop forgiveness skills.
    Many people of large minds are willing to say after the conflict, "I'm going to bury the hatchet." To themselves, they - add: "But I'm going to mark exactly where I bury it, just in case I need to dig it up for the next fight." Forgiveness looks forward, vengeance looks backward. Again, it's anatomy: we have eyes in the front of our heads, not the back.

  • Purify our hearts.
    This is merely an elegant way of telling ourselves, "I need to get my own messy life in order before I can instruct others how to live." Do these nine steps of nonviolent conflict resolution always work? No. Sometimes the conflict partners are so emotionally wounded or ideologically hidebound, that nothing con stop the violence. But large numbers of conflicts can be resolved without killing or wounding the other side, provided the strategies for peacemaking are known.

Source: Abstracted from Colman McCarthy in The Baltimore Sun
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