The word conflict comes from the latin word "conflictio" which means "altercation". Conflicts, disagreements and problems in working together will always occur, both among children and adults.
Conflicts can occur in all levels of society; between individuals, in families, workgroups, in local and central decision making, and in society as a whole. There are different reasons why conflicts occur, for example different goals, values or interests, misunderstanding of situations, unsatisfied needs. To live with unsolved conflicts takes energy and may cause people to feel burdened and divided. Because of this, it is important not to shut one's eyes to conflict. Instead, one should try to understand the cause of the conflict and its effects, and then try to influence or resolve the conlfict.
To openly accept conflicts requires courage and willpower. There are many reasons why people choose to suppress understanding of a conflict. Here are some ways of thinking that suppress conflicts:
There is no possibillity to make things better!
I can get in trouble if I try to interfere!
It is best not to think about it!
Am I really able to do something about it?
Perhaps I am the only person who feels that something is wrong!
Someone else will do something about it!
Experiences at an early age often play an important role in how you understand situations. Stress caused by conflict may cause you to use different defence mechanisms. By not accepting that there is a conflict, you try to live with a "harmony model" of reality. Critique and suggestions for change are not understood, because the existence of the conflict is not accepted. But if, instead, a conflict is accepted and solved, this will cause better understanding of the thoughts, feelings and needs of each other, and can also result in more openness, creativity and community. Thus, the conflict can cause a relation or a group to improve itself.
Below is described a model for good problem-solving. The model consists of the following six steps:
Identify and define the problem:
Describe the problem in ways which are not based on critique or disdain. "I" statements are the most effective way of formulating a problem. This means that you start with your own feelings and ideas. Be an active listener, let other people state their views, try to understand your opponent, and ask check questions to ensure that you have not misunderstood something. Understanding the views of your opponent can cause you to see the problem in a new way. But do not suppress your own feelings. If you do not say what you feel, your opponent may not be motivated to resolve the problem. Ensure that your opponent understands that you have to find a resolution which satisfies both needs - a solution where no one is a loser, a so-called win-win solution.
Propose different solutions:
It is not always easy to immediately see the best solution. Ask your opponent to start proposing solutions - you will have time to propose your ideas later on. Employ active listening techniques and respect the ideas of your opponent. Try to list several different solutions, before evaluating and discussing them.
Evaluate the different solutions:
Be frank and critical, use active listening.
Making a decision:
A common agreement on a solution is necessary. The solution must be specified in such a way that both parties understand it. Do not try to persuade or press your opponent to accept a certain solution. If your opponent is not able to freely select a solution, which he or she can accept, there is a risk that nothing is improved.
Carry out the solution:
Immediately after having agreed on a solution, it is usually necessary to discuss how to implement it. Who will do what, and when? If your opponent does not adhere to what you have agreed on, you should confront them with "I" statements. But do not again and again remind your opponent of their tasks - this will cause them to rely on your reminders instead of taking own responsibility for their own behaviour.
Perform a follow-up evaluation:
Sometimes, you may find that there are weaknesses in the solution. Both parties should be willing to revise decisions, but this should be done together, not by one of you alone. You have to agree on all changes to the solution - just as you have to agree on the original solution.
Test to perform these steps, but remember that your best method for effective conflict resolution is active listening, open and direct statements, trust and respect for each other's needs, openness to new facts and patience.
Note: By "active listening" is meant techniques where you check that you have understood what other people mean by rephrasing their views, checking that they agree with your understanding of their views, and asking check questions when needed.