How to Resolve a Dispute

Two Parts:Collecting Your ThoughtsTalking Through the Dispute

Although it is never pleasant, conflict is a normal, healthy, and essential part of life. Over a lifetime, each of us will have innumerable disputes with friends, family, partners, coworkers, and strangers. Resolving a dispute requires both parties to cooperate, but with an open mind and a willingness to communicate, you can do your part to reach a mutually-agreeable

Part 1
Collecting Your Thoughts

  1. Image titled Let Go of Anger Without Hurting People Step 2
    Watch your reaction. When a conflict arises, there is little that you can do to control the reaction of the other person. You can, however, focus on managing your own reaction. The way that you react can trigger a reaction in the other person, so try to do your part not to escalate a situation or withdraw from the interaction.
    • Conflict naturally triggers anger. A little bit of anger can help you be assertive when you need to be. However, anger and stress can have negative health effects, and unrestrained anger can lead to aggression and even violence.[1] If you feel yourself losing your temper, excuse yourself from the situation and cool off.[2]
    • "Stonewalling" is a different kind of reaction to conflict. When faced with a stressful situation, some people shut down and either refuse or become unable to interact with the other person. Stonewalling is counter-productive because the stonewalling party is unable to participate in the resolution of the dispute.[3] If you feel yourself shutting down, excuse yourself from the discussion, but commit to returning to the topic as soon as you are able.[4]
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    Analyze the problem. During a dispute, especially an emotional one, it can be easy to lose sight of what the argument is about. Ask yourself what outcome you want. Then ask yourself what the other person wants. This can help you figure out why the other person is resisting your position, and can even help you predict what his or her argument will be.
    • Ask why the other party is aggrieved. If you can understand why the other party is unhappy, you may be able to come up with a solution that makes them feel better.
    • Ask yourself why the conflict arose in the first place. Was it something you did or said? If you can understand why you are in this predicament in the first place, you are going to be in a better position to get out of it successfully.
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    Envision a solution. When you approach a dispute, focus on the solution, not on why the other person is wrong or how his or her resistance has bothered or inconvenienced you. Figure out a solution in advance, and be prepared to guide the conversation to whether or not your solution will work, rather than who was right and who was wrong.
    • Is your position non-negotiable, or can you compromise? If you and your spouse are disagreeing about dividing household chores, a compromise makes sense. If you are confronting your boss about workplace harassment, compromise is not a solution. If you need to stand firm, prepare to clearly and confidently state why.
    • Know what terms are negotiable and which ones are absolute deal breakers. When you talk to the other party, focus on the terms you can negotiate and try to come to a solution about those.
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    Make goals. Before you approach the other party, consider what you want to achieve by talking through the dispute. Consider what you want to achieve and what you think the other party wants to achieve. Is there common ground there? If so, focus on that common ground when you talk to the other party.
    • When you make goals for resolving a dispute, make sure they are achievable. When you are doing this, ask yourself if the dispute can even be resolved by talking with the other person. Not all conflicts can be resolved and you should consider this fact before engaging the other party.

Part 2
Talking Through the Dispute

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    State your position. When you approach the other person to address your dispute, open the discussion by restating the problem. State your position, and repeat your understanding of the other person's position. Then propose a solution. By stating your understanding of the other person's position, you demonstrate to him or her that you have considered where he or she is coming from. If the other person believes that you have misunderstood his or her position, you have opened the door to clarifying the misunderstanding. For example:
    • "I know that you're upset that I cancelled our plans for this weekend, especially since we made this plans so long ago. I had to cancel because my partner has a work function that weekend, and it's very important to her that I accompany her. You said that you were feeling like our friendship isn't important to me, and I can understand why you are feeling that way. Although I'm not available this weekend, I would like it if we could reschedule our plans for sometime next month."
    • "I'm calling to dispute the late fee charged to my account. I understand that as a customer service representative, you are required to charge the fee in accordance with the company's policies. However, I signed the account contract before the new late fee policy went into effect. If you are not authorized to reverse the late fee charge, I would like to speak to the branch manager."
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    Practice active listening. When the other person makes a point during the discussion, repeat and rephrase that point in your response. This demonstrates that you are truly listening and understanding what the other person is telling you. If he or she was unclear, ask for clarification.[5]
    • For example, if the other person says, "It bothered me that you just accepted the report I wrote last week and haven't mentioned it since then," you might respond with, "Would it be fair to say that you would have liked more recognition for your hard work and were frustrated when I didn't show more appreciation?"[6]
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    Consider mediation. No matter what kind of dispute you are facing, whether it is personal, work-related, or legal, there is probably a mediator that can help resolve the dispute when the two parties aren't getting anywhere on their own. Depending on the type of situation, the mediator can either help facilitate communication or simply impose a solution.
    • For personal disputes, consider meeting with a counselor or therapist to help work through the communication issues that are causing problems. If you are having a legal dispute, you can ask your court clerk about mediation programs, where a trained expert can help you try to reach a settlement and avoid litigation.
    • If communication and negotiation is not going to work, you may need to have an arbitrator step in and impose a solution. If, for example, you are having a conflict with a coworker about an assignment, your boss may simply assign the responsibility to one of you so that you can both move on. Going to court is a similar solution; sometimes, you need a judge or a jury to hear the facts and impose a binding solution.

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Categories: Managing Arguments