ADR, Mediation

Ten tips for resolving conflict in 2018

By Staff

Communication is key to resolving conflict and should be at the top of everyone’s New Year’s resolutions, Toronto mediator Victoria Romero tells

“We really need to work on our communication skills, and I wish that everyone would learn Conflict Resolution 101 in high school or even elementary school, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen,” says Romero, principal of the Toronto mediation firm VR Law.

Through her own experience and with help from the 1981 book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In — which she calls “one of our bibles in the conflict-resolution world” — Romero has developed a list of 10 ways to minimize conflict.

The following are Romero’s 10 tips:

1. Think about what happened that led to the conflict, and take time to analyze and assess the situation.

“It’s going to be your side of the story, the other person’s side of the story and what actually happened,” she says. “You must realize that not everyone is going to see the situation the same way.”

2. Differentiate between intention and impact. When one person does something that hurts another, there’s an assumption that the hurt was intended.

“It’s not that the person was intending that result, but unfortunately that’s what sometimes happens,” Romero says. “People are quick to blame, but you need two to tango. We must assess ourselves. It’s very important.”

3. Never ignore your feelings.

“There are always feelings, whether anger, resentment or frustration. Don’t ignore them; own them,” she says. Being in touch with one’s feelings can lead to an understanding of how each person is contributing to the conflict. “If you’re not aware of your feelings, how are you going to know how the situation is affecting you?”

4. Hear what the other person is saying. Instead of preparing a response while the other person is talking, really listen.

“It’s very important that we hear what is being said and what’s not,” Romero says. “We need to remember that people don’t change without first feeling heard or understood. Listening is very important.” Instead of starting a sentence with “You,” she advises using “I,” which is less accusatory when engaging in a conflict situation.

5. Separate the person from the problem.

“Everyone is different and you will never find another person who thinks exactly like you or agrees with you all of the time,” she says, adding that “conflict is a natural part of life” and it’s important not to take disputes personally.

“Focus on the situation, because no one is 100 per cent evil and no one is 100 per cent a saint.”

6. When there’s a conflict, focus on both parties’ wants, needs and concerns.

“If you ask yourself why the person is taking this position, you will understand that there has to be a reason,” Romero says. “The reason is usually a need, concern or want. You have to find what’s driving this conflict.” Once the driver is identified, “you can start to find solutions.”

7. Don’t expect the other person to agree with your view.

“They’re not going to take your side and you’re not going to take theirs. So why keep trying? Why continue this futile exercise?” she says, noting it’s best to use “impartial standards or criteria” to find a solution." Objective standards help people move from impasse.

8. Determine a “walk-away” point. The book Getting to Yes coined the term BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), which refers to the most advantageous course to take if negotiations fall apart.

“The more you work at developing your BATNA or walk-away position — which is your best option if you are unable to reach an agreement — the more strength you will have to negotiate and to find a solution to your conflict,” Romero explains. “When should I walk away? When does it not make sense anymore to continue negotiating?”

9. What is informing your opinion? People interpret a situation based on their own experience and concept of right and wrong.

“You need to ask yourself, ‘What are the facts that are telling me I’m right? And are these facts accurate, or am I being biased?”

10. Put the past in the past. When trying to resolve conflict, the focus should be on moving forward.

“The past can’t be changed. No matter what, it’s done. So don’t even waste energy,” Romero says. “Even if you’re moving slowly, it’s progress.”

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