By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

As a mediator, it is my job to be right in the middle of conflict.  Indeed, often as a mediator, we have to listen to things that the other side may not be willing to listen and then communicate that message to the other side in a way that does not turn off the other side yet communicates the message.  It makes me think that conflict is a normal part of life.  We all have conflict, and many people are afraid of conflict.  Rather than thinking that conflict is a bad thing, perhaps we can consider using it as a good thing:  An opportunity to communicate and clarify in a relationship.  As such, I have put together some suggestions when a conflict starts.  Hopefully, you will find them interesting…

1.  Calm Down.  Take deep breaths.  While breathing, think of a good things in your life.  Doing this will help you from feeling overwhelmed by the conflict and will enable you to think clearly.

2. How important is this person? Most people regret what they say most to their most loved ones.  Remember at the end of the day and the end of the conflict, you still have to be friends, co-workers, spouses, or family.  Focus on the fact that you are cleaning up your communication issues and the positive nature of that conflict.

3.  What are your needs? Don’t  get distracted from your own best goals/needs by the conflict.  More often the conflict is a temporary distraction rather than something that helps you achieve your goals. Think about  long-term interests are in the situation, and rank them by priority, so that you stay focused on negotiating the issues that really matter to you.

4.  Will This Issue Matter in a Year? Choose your battles wisely.  Will it matter and why?  Most times, the answer is no.  This can help guide you to determine if this is a battle worth fighting.

5. Consider the Other Person as an Ally.  Just changing your view of the other person in conflict can help you manage your emotions and the conflict itself.  Further, it allows you to focus the conflict on cooperative efforts rather than opposing efforts.

6. Begin by listening to the other person and affirming anything that you can agree on. Look carefully for any and all the areas where your interests and needs might overlap with their interests and needs. Verbally identify those commonalities.  Address prior agreements or successes with that person. R Then work to expand the areas of agreement.

7. Acknowledge and apologize for any mistakes. Many people refuse to apologize.  Don’t be afraid to do so.  Also, unequivocally apologize without any mitigators.  In other words, no “Sorry, but…”

8. Summarize the other person’s needs, feelings First. When people feel heard, they are more likely to listen. Summarize to let people know that you have understood them, not to argue with their view.

9.  Focus On Principled Solutions, Not Positions. For example, if you can’t agree on a price for something, see if you can agree on a fair rule to set the price. If you can’t agree on a fair rule, focus on finding a referee who could help you and your partner-in-conflict define a fair rule.

10. Ask For Specific Actionable Items.  Rather than focusing on overall feelings or attitudes, focus on things that can be done specifically.   Answer the Who, What, When, Where, and especially Why about your request.  Explain how the actions will help you and if possible, the other person.

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