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10 Powerful Conflict Resolution Strategies

Being able to confront someone effectively is a skillset that few of us are born with, and few ever learn.

“Conflict” is the word we use to describe a confrontational conversation that has gone beyond a calm healthy debate. It’s where one or more of the people involved are now overcome with emotions like anger, disgust, confusion and anxiety, and can no longer maintain a rational discussion.

Conflict is where people start getting unreasonable, unhelpfully resistance, difficult, dismissive, aggressive, defensive, manipulative, and even outright abusive.

In order to become adept at managing and resolving conflict, you must learn how to navigate through these emotional storms within yourself and with other people. In this post, I’ll give you my 10 top practical tips that you can apply immediately to secure better outcomes in your confrontations, negotiations, and boundary-setting conversations.

Allow at least 2 seconds of silence

Sadly, the biggest issue in conflict is people simply stop taking time to think, and start reacting impulsively and blurting without consideration for the truth or the health of the relationship. It’s amazing what a difference it can make if you can just slow down and think.

Make it a rule that you must allow for at least 2 full seconds of silence to pass between the last thing they said and the next thing you say.

It might not sound like much, but it’s enough time to discard the first nasty impulse you get and allow yourself to critically review your upcoming response to see if it is: a) honest, b) helpful, and c) rational.

In the case where the other person keeps talking and doesn’t allow silences, either wait patiently until they run out of steam (except in the case of “filibuster” types who cannot ever stop talking or use talking as a tactic to prevent dissent), or hold up a hand and look down until they pause, then say, “Please give me a second to think before I respond, there’s too much information for me to process all at once here”.

Speak slowly

Alongside pauses, slowing yourself down physically will also go a long way to resolving the conflict on both sides. Anger and other such feelings are hasty and rushed. If you slow everything down, you make everyone involved much more likely to calm down and think clearly.

Speak like you have all the time in the world. Control your hands and body to move slowly and smoothly (less movement is best), as if you’re underwater. Soften your face to remove the hostility and aggressive muscle tension. Add to this the pausing mentioned above, and the urgency of the situation will subtly reduce.

These first two steps will generally do most of the heavy lifting!

Explore with curiosity

When a conflict arises, people often take on a frame of “This is my enemy, they must be defeated!”

Ironically, this frame makes it less likely for you to arrive at a satisfying outcome.

An advanced conflict resolution skill is to explore what the other person wants first, rather than trying to quickly get what you want. If you become intently curious about them – particularly their conflict itself, the emotions and thoughts they are currently experiencing – they will start to feel like you’re listening to them and invested in a solution that also benefits them.

This will make them much more amenable, reasonable, and open to hearing your side of things. It just requires the patience of letting them go first.

Once you’re clear on their perspective, ask yourself how their preferences might be able to collaborate with your own so that you find a win/win conclusion. It’s rare that a situation only has a win/lose outcome available. Think outside the box.

 


 

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Reflect before responding

Following on from the previous point, showing the person that they are being heard and understood will dramatically reduce their aggression, defensiveness, repetition, and sense of injury. Reflective listening is an incredible powerful way to convey this. (I cover this in depth in this podcast.)

In simple terms, reflective listening – also known as the steel-man technique – simply means you reflect back your understanding of what the person just said before you express your own views. You show that you’ve heard them and understand their argument.

You don’t need to repeat it word for word, that might even sound phony. But you can try summarise what they’ve said in a few short points, or you can share what you think is the main message they’re trying to convey, or you can simply identify the feeling they seem to be experiencing as they speak.

Wait after you’ve reflected, and watch/listen to their reaction to confirm you’ve understood them correctly. Then you can express your own response. They will be much more open to hearing your views if they know you’ve first accurately interpreted theirs.

Let go of the topic until calm returns

Whatever the original topic or disagreement was about, you must put resolving it aside until the conflict has died down. In other words, you park it until everyone can discuss it calmly.

This requires patience. Maybe you can’t resolve the issue in this conversation and will have to try again later. It’s better to move slowly and resolve it over time than to rush and only aggravate the issue.

You can firmly tell them, “We’ll come back to that soon, but first we need to resolve this emotion that’s come up for us as we talk about this. Let’s work through the conflict and then come back to the issue when we’re both calm”.

If they deny being in conflict – a common defensiveness – first make sure you say “we” instead of “you” when talking about conflict to show that you’re not judging them. Then you can simply roll with their denial, like, “OK you might not feel a conflict, but I do, so I’ll need to work through this before we can resolve the topic. And maybe you can help me understand why I get the impression you’re feeling [conflict, e.g. anger]. What emotions are you feeling right now?”

Maintain rational frame

“Frame control” describes the conflict between two or more versions of reality. For example, if I believe that we should always have a clean house, and you believe that people should just clean when they feel like it, we have two different views of how the world should work regarding hygiene. Whoever’s view dominates the other becomes the “frame” that’s in control. If I get you cleaning more frequently, then you have “bought” my frame.

The simplest trick I ever learned while working with aggressive criminal offenders is that if I can just maintain a calm rational frame (i.e. like we’re just having a friendly debate and calmly talking through the points), the other person will eventually calm down and start mirroring my rationality.

It can take anywhere from 5 to 15 mins or even more for this to work, so you must be patient.

Think to yourself, “I can endure this forever, but they can’t stay angry forever. If I just stay calm, take my time, be respectful, and stick to the facts, they will run out of energy before I do”.

No matter how much they escalate or provoke or distract you, just calmly stick to the rational facts as if they are being respectful and easy to talk with. Think of a patient loving mother slowly working through her toddler’s tiredness-induced tantrum.

Acknowledge resistance – both theirs and yours

If you pretend resistance isn’t happening, it will double in size. It just wants to be acknowledged.

You can simply say, “I’m feeling some resistance from [you or me]”.

When resistance comes up, make that the topic for conversation. Point out that the original topic cannot continue until the resistance is dealt with.

Never argue against the resistance. People are allowed to feel resistant. There’s nothing wrong with that. Rather, assume it’s come up for a good reason, and explore with the person as to why they think it’s come up (or share your own feelings about why your resistance has come up).

Rewrite accusations as naïve assumptions

When you accuse someone of bad behaviour or thoughts, you will provoke their defensiveness, escalating the conflict. It’s rare that an accusation is helpful to finding a resolution. You don’t need to do it!

But if you want to be honest, you might want to acknowledge that accusatory thoughts are coming up for you. Luckily, you don’t have to present them as accusations, you can present them as flawed assumptions, which is actually more accurate.

Rather than saying, “You’re lying to me!” you can say “I want to believe you but I’m struggling.” Rather than, “You deliberately did that to sabotage me,” you can say, “I feel a strong urge to blame you for this because of [evidence], but I’m open to being corrected.”

At least give them a chance to have a fair hearing before passing sentence. Show them that admitting to what happened is the safest path forward. And never trust your assumptions… you’d be shocked at how wrong you can be!

Call out their best selves

You have a few choices in a conflict: you can attack; you can defend; you can run and hide; you can fawn and placate. But there’s another hidden option that few people notice: calling out the best from everyone.

No matter how low your opinion of the other person is, try starting with the assumption that they can behave a lot better than this. Assume they are capable of a healthy discussion and do have the ability to resolve this issue with you.

Starting with that mindset, express that assumption to them. Start saying things like, “I know you have the intelligence to help me find a solution here,” or “I’m going to ignore that little insult because I know you’re better than that deep down,” or “Can you try saying that differently? I know you value respect, so I expect you to role model it”.

You can even be really strong and challenging, and say something like, “I know that you’re better than this. You reduce yourself by speaking to me like that. Take a breath and show me that you’re not this guy. Where’s the rational, clever and compassionate guy I know so well?”

Ask them for solutions

The main mistake people make in confrontations is coming prepared with exactly what they want and trying to force it down the other person’s throat, either with direct aggression or covert sneaky tricks.

Counterintuitively, you’re more likely to get what you want if you first focus on what they want. Specificially, make sure they are at least equal partners in the design of the solution.

When you’re getting to the part at the end where it’s time to plan future changes and actions, ask them rather than tell them. Say, “I have some ideas about how we can move forward, but I want to hear from you first.” Ask them what their ideal solution is, and what would make them satisfied with the outcome.

Then you can share what you want, and no matter how much it might seem to contradict their preferences, ask them again, “How do we find a way to both get what we want?”

You’d be surprised. People might actually be totally fine with your way being the way forward just so long as they had a chance to voice their ideas.

Ruthless last resort

And finally, if you’ve tried all of these tactics and done your best to remain calm, reasonable, patient and respectful, and they’re still being incredibly stubborn, abusive, aggressive, dismissive, bullying etc., and you’ve tried taking a break and coming back to it and they’re still not improving, then it’s time to get ruthless.

Tell them you’ve tried your best to resolve this amicably but can’t see it happening, so you’ll have to now move forward without consulting them further. Then take ruthless action that resolves the issue without their cooperation, like involving law enforcement, quitting your job, ending the relationship, sending in debt collectors, and so on.

How you can make massive progress in just a few months!

You can do all this on your own.

Through trial and error, books, courses and online content, you can figure it out slowly piece by piece over time if you dedicate yourself to it and are willing to fail often and get uncomfortable in order to achieve social mastery and build strong self confidence.

Or…

You can work directly with me in your corner for a short period of time and achieve the same results in months that would take you YEARS on your own (or your money back!).

That’s what my confidence coaching is really all about. I accelerate your progress significantly by ensuring you:

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It took me about 7-10 years to figure this stuff out on my own. It takes my average coaching client only about 3-6 months to achieve a level of mastery that leaves them able to continue coaching themselves to further success while feeling absolutely certain that they’re on the right path (proven by the results they get).

I’ve turned virgins into fathers.

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Thanks for reading

Hope to speak to you soon

Dan Munro

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