From Dr. Jane's Notebook
A win-win solution to conflict management
Conflict management is a problem for people of all ages and in all settings.
Children get into conflicts at school, adults get into conflicts on the job,
family members develop chronic patterns of conflict, and road rage gets worse
every day. While it seems easy to adopt a no-tolerance policy against
violence, these policies usually fail to teach alternative ways to resolve
interpersonal problems. As a result, small conflicts frequently escalate into
larger conflicts, and soon, the potential for verbal and/or physical violence is
As we enter into this new year, I would like to propose a set of guidelines
for conflict management which may be applicable in these settings.
- Rule #1. The best way to manage violence is to prevent it. We can
no longer afford to be naive about conflict. We live in tough times when
many people feel helpless, powerless, and are quick to strike out. Families,
companies, and school systems need to provide safe avenues for interpersonal
problem solving. Without a safe avenue for expression, people are more
likely to feel at the mercy of their superior, which increases
feelings of anger and resentment. Families and institutions of all kinds
must embrace the importance of constructive expression for students
and teachers, employees and supervisors, children and parents, alike.
- Rule #2. If one person has a problem, both have a problem. In the
effort to prevent violence, each of us must take responsibility for our role
in an interpersonal conflict. If someone has a problem with us, denying our
involvement generally just adds fuel to the fire. To avoid violence, we must
recognize that all people have an effect upon each other. If a problem
exists, both of us must be willing to come up with a solution to our
problem, no matter who started it. Supervisors who think from an
authoritarian perspective may feel perfectly justified in speaking to their
employees in any way they wish. But from a safety perspective, if the tone
of the supervisor’s voice offends an employee, the potential for violence
is increased. Remember: we are all part of nature and for every action,
there is a reaction.
- Rule #3. Each of us has the need to express ourselves. It is
difficult, if not impossible to suppress one’s feelings for very long.
When we are required to suppress uncomfortable feelings, we develop a
buildup of emotions and potentially, emotional indigestion. Before
long, built-up feelings can become built-up angry feelings which
increase the possibility for violence. Again, from a safety perspective, the
sooner a complaint is acknowledged and effectively dealt with, the less
likely it is that anyone will become violent. A safe and easily accessible
way to express complaints must be put into place by those who are in charge.
- Rule #4. Find a win-win solution. To effectively decrease the
potential for violence, employees, students, and family members must have
viable and available avenues by which to communicate their discomfort.
Further, the use of that avenue or forum must provide immunity from losing one’s
job, school suspension, or other forms of punishment. In general, attempts to
solve problems in constructive manners should be seen as positive and helpful
rather then negative or punitive. When conflicts are approached as
opportunities for both parties to gain an improved understanding of each
other, the potential for violence drops dramatically.
- Rule#5. With effective communication, both parties win; without
effective communication, both parties lose. It has been said that the
meaning of one’s communication is determined by the listener, not by the
speaker. In other words, just because we do not intend to be offensive,
doesn’t mean that we are not being perceived as offensive. Excellent
communication skills develop only with time and with practice. It has been
said that 90% of communication skills are one’s listening skills. When
people are willing to listen to each other, both win each other’s respect.
When people refuse to listen to each other, they begin to work against each
other; in this way, everyone loses.
Most of us have heard the expression that nature abhors a vacuum.
Applied here, we recognize that conflicts between people are inevitable, and
that it is difficult, if not impossible to deny our feelings of anger, hurt or
indignation. If we truly want to reduce the amount of violence in our schools,
jobs, families and society, we must institute better ways to resolve conflicts
through communication. For starters, I recommend the following variation on the
Golden Rule: Speak unto others as you would have them speak unto you. As
long as we believe that it is okay to treat other people without consideration,
we will contribute to a world of conflict and violence. In turn, as our children
watch and learn from the behavior of adults, the world they build will become
either more civilized or more violent.
©Copyright, 2002, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Personal Growth
Return to Table of Contents