Conflict and negotiation
conflict; anger; consequences; win-win; solutions; resolution; negotiate; disagreement; problems; active; listening; negotiation;
We all face conflict at some time in our lives. But it doesn't always have to be negative. It doesn't have to end up as a war! In fact, if you learn skills to deal with conflict, there can be some really positive and satisfying outcomes.
What is conflict?
Conflict is when people disagree on an issue, or can't get along well. This is just a part of life. It's natural for people to disagree at times, because we all have different interests, values, goals and needs. Sometimes we don't understand other people and what they really mean, or they don’t understand us.
- Conflict happens in personal relationships, with family, parents, caregivers, friends, partners, teachers and work mates.
- Conflict also happens in the wider society, among groups with different interests and values, different religions, races, countries, political parties and even sporting teams. You can probably think of many other examples.
- Conflict can also happen within yourself when you learn something new that is different to what you always believed. The conflict inside yourself can make you want to hang on tightly to your old beliefs or it can lead you to change your beliefs.
Conflict can result in changes, often for the better.
Consequences of conflict
- Conflict can get dangerous when people get aggressive and violent.
- Conflict can bring about increased learning and greater understanding of each other's viewpoints when dealt with wisely.
- Some people avoid conflict, which means they don't get any say in what's happening.
Some of the negative outcomes of ignoring conflict or managing conflict badly can be:
- having a lot of anger that you don't express
- problems not improving
- conflict getting worse
- separation or family breakdown
- feeling resentful
- stress, tension and illness
- aggression and violence
- poor relationships.
Some of the positive outcomes of dealing with conflict successfully can be:
- a sense of achievement
- stronger relationships and team work
- learning more about others and yourself
- good health
- feeling positive.
It all depends on how it's handled. You probably already have some very good skills in dealing with conflict. We can all learn more skills to deal with conflict that will bring more positive outcomes.
Ways to deal with conflict
It's wise to deal with conflict if the issue is important and causing problems. Sometimes, if it is a minor issue, you could just let it go, but if you are feeling unhappy, see if you can work it out.
The most effective way to deal with conflict is to negotiate with the other person involved. Getting angry or aggressive often makes the situation much worse. Much conflict can be resolved if you use a positive and respectful approach - but sometimes this can be very difficult, especially if you or the other person are used to getting what you want by becoming angry, or used to just giving in.
One of the most effective ideas is the win-win approach.
- This approach is about both people being satisfied with the outcome.
- It's about finding out what you both want and where there are areas that you can both agree on, then working towards them.
- It's about working together as partners trying to solve a problem, not as opponents trying to win against each other.
- It's about working together on a basis of mutual respect to find a satisfying solution.
Raise the topic with respect!
Bring the conflict out into the open. Do this together in a calm way when both of you have the time and energy to sit down and talk peacefully.
- Say what the conflict is from your view and ask for the other's view.
- Ask the other person if he would like to work out a solution with you.
- At this time it's also OK to tell him how you feel - it's only natural that conflict will bring out different emotions, like sadness or anger.
- Say how you are feeling rather than taking it out on the other person. But be careful here - if you tell the other person your feelings in a way that is blaming them, you may get him angry and lose the opportunity to discuss the issues.
- The main things to focus on at this time are what the problem is and what the issues are.
It is very important to treat the other person with respect while you're discussing this.
At this point, you don't have to go on to work it all out - you have stated that there is a problem.
- You could then decide together whether to make a time to work on it together, or to work on it now.
- You may like to print this topic out and use it together to try and resolve the conflict.
Understand each other
Both of you should have an uninterrupted time to explain how you see the conflict.
Practise 'active listening' - this means that you
- Look at the person while he/she is talking.
- Show respect by allowing the person to talk without interrupting.
- Stay and look calm.
- Talk in a quiet voice.
- Make 'listening noises' eg "I see, oh yes, uh huh., "
- Make sure you have understood what is being said by repeating or saying in your own words what she has said. Eg "So, you believe that I deliberately forgot to do something we'd agreed on."
Do all this in a positive way - no attacking or accusing.
- Be open about what you might have done to make it worse.
- Be honest with yourself and the other person about this.
By now you should each have a good picture of what is troubling the other person.
Define the problem
- So what exactly is the problem?
- Can you both define the problem together?
- To make it easier to define, try and write it down in one sentence that explains the problem.
What do you both want?
- Next, think about what it is you both want. How would you both like things to be?
- Start to answer this together by working out the areas that you can both agree on.
- Then work out together what your goals are.
- Once you've worked out together how you'd like things to be, write down the goals that you both have - this means what you would like to happen.
Now that you really understand each other, have worked out what the problem is and have worked out some goals, you can start to think about ways to get there.
- Think of all the possible ideas you can come up with together that will move you towards your goals - it doesn't matter how wild the ideas are at this stage.
- Write them as you go.
- When you finish brainstorming ideas, look at all the ideas you came up with. How can you make each idea work? What might be the outcomes of each idea?
- Decide which are the best ideas.
Putting it into practice
Make an agreement about which idea you'll work on together.
- Work out all the details together clearly, eg. "on such and such day I will do x".
- You can even write it out so you both know you are clear and are agreeing on exactly the same thing.
- A written agreement means it's still clear later when one of you may have forgotten some details. If something comes up that means you can't keep up your part of the agreement, go back and work it out again.
- If the plan looks like it's not going to work after a fair time, then go back to the list you brainstormed. Try another idea.
This may seem like a lot of hard work, but it gets easier each time you practice. And remember, resolving conflict is worthwhile.
To work out conflicts, your skills are needed. In particular:
- being respectful
- being understanding
- being assertive.
Assertiveness is a skill of its own. What does assertive mean? It's a kind of attitude halfway between being aggressive and being passive.
- Being aggressive means you force your view on someone else.
- Being passive means you don't do anything, just let things happen to you.
There may be times when it's OK to be passive or aggressive, but as we have already seen, they're not at all useful when there is a conflict. What you need then is to be assertive. When you're being assertive, you state your view, and do it in a calm and non-blaming manner.
Have a look at our topics Assertiveness - what it means and Assertiveness - stick up for yourself! for more information.
Getting help to learn about handling conflict
It can be hard to learn conflict resolution and assertiveness skills from reading alone. Many schools teach these skills to students. There are also courses in many community health centres where you can talk about these skills, ask questions and try out different problems with other people.
Check out the resources at the end of this topic. Look for similar resources near where you live.
“Learning to work things out when you have a problem is a really important skill. It is not about scoring points, it is about learning to work things out in a respectful, mature way.
It’s not easy listening to someone who has a problem with the way you have acted or with something you have said, but shouting louder, getting upset and storming off is no good if you want to sort things out.
Everyone makes mistakes and it’s not easy to say sorry or to accept blame for something - but if you want relationships to work, that’s what you have to be prepared to do. Of course, if it is the other person who needs to apologise then you have to be accepting of their apology and willing to work things through without harping on about what they did. And that can be hard too!”
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
- The Second Story Youth Health Service (TSS):
Central: 57 Hyde Street, Adelaide
South: 50a Beach Road, Christies Beach
North: 6 Gillingham Road, Elizabeth
West: 51 Bower St, Woodville
- Youth Healthline 1300 13 17 19
- Shopfront Youth Health and Information Service – telephone (08) 8281 1775.
- Your school counsellor or teacher.
- Your local community health service - check the phone book (in South Australia look under SA Health).