In Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy, the New York Times‘ Bruce Feiler, focuses on family conflict resolution in the home, asking, “how do we break out of negative patterns of conduct and proactively approach problems encountered in our everyday lives?” His negotiation advice, gleaned from his own experiences as well as from the negotiation research of experts in the field of conflict resolution and dispute resolution, is actually quite simple on its face yet very complex in practice.
To achieve relative peace, controlling and managing conflict as it erupts is essential to effective conflict resolution.
Feiler highlights a few key areas where families need to be careful, particularly during:
Conflict Resolution: Hellos and Goodbyes
Whenever we are saying hello or goodbye, we are especially vulnerable to escalated emotions, according to Chicago psychologists Reed Larson and Maryse Richards. Noting this, and avoiding addressing any conflicts during these times, will greatly lessen the likelihood of a contentious and unproductive argument erupting.
Conflict Resolution: Relative Position to Your Negotiating Counterpart
Beware of looming over or being perceived as sitting beneath your counterpart in any conflict. Doing so ensures that you neither appear too dominant nor too passive in the conflict, thus allowing for a more collaborative environment. If you really want to signal a willingness to collaborate with your counterpart, try sitting beside one another.
Conflict Resolution Strategy: Sincere Speech
Always moderate the tone of your voice to make sure you are not speaking too loudly or too softly but rather firmly and earnestly so that your counterpart perceives your willingness to collaborate together towards a mutual solution. Do not be too harsh nor too soft when addressing your concerns and always be aware of the endgame, which is a resolution to the dispute that leaves both parties satisfied with the process.
Conflict Resolution Strategy: “Go to the Balcony”
As Program on Negotiation faculty member William Ury reminds us in Getting Past No, during the most heated arguments it is often best for you to imagine yourself on stage and to mentally ‘go to the balcony’ or remove yourself from the situation at hand in order to take a larger view of the conflict. When engaged in a heated argument, it is often too easy to become lost in the micro details that stymie efforts towards conflict resolution. By removing yourself from the morass, you give yourself the opportunity to approach the problem in novel ways.
Conflict Resolution Strategy: Take a Break
In the most heated negotiations or conflicts, it is often advisable that both parties take a break from their discussions when things look like they may become too chaotic or that the talks may derail.
A Case Study of Conflict Resolution – Some Dispute Resolution Tips
The language you use also affects how you are perceived in a dispute. In order to successfully resolve disputes with our counterparts, we have to begin speaking in collaborative, rather than individual, terms. This is best illustrated by avoiding the pronouns ‘you’ or ‘I,’ as these denote an individual slant to your arguments that do no signal cooperation with your counterpart. Rather than being a divisive process, conflict provides an opportunity to unite two parties towards a mutually agreeable solution.
Program on Negotiation faculty member Sheila Heen reminds us in her book Difficult Conversations that apologies have two functions in conflict management: demonstrating contrition and taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions. No matter the dispute, it is often necessary for someone to take the lead in pursuing collaborative change in conflict resolution. It is often easier to take the lead when your counterpart knows you are both willing to admit mistakes and take responsibility for those mistakes.
Which conflict resolution strategies have helped you? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published in 2013.