Definition: Conflict Resolution

A conflict is resolved when the dispute ends without violence (physical, yes, but most likely, emotional) or retribution. Most civilized folks do this daily as a matter of habit. The retailer screws up our order. We bring it politely to his attention. He fixes the problem. We thank him. He smiles and returns “you’re welcome.” End of story.

But, sometimes things escalate. We fail to be polite. We offend the retailer. He’s not so happy about helping us. And, pretty soon, we’re fighting. We may even reach a stand-off. We may end up suing each other.

Often, all this can be avoided.

What we mean by conflict resolution is that we’re all going to come together to create a reality that is different from the one we’re in right now. We come together with an open mind and attempt to understand each other. Different points of view will be in the room. Wildly different ideas about what to do and who should do it and how things should be (and should not be) will be spoken. These ideas will be not be suppressed or demeaned. These ideas might be fact-checked, their plausibility or acceptability might be debated. We will disagree. AND, we will move into negotiation. We will intend to get an agreement we can all live with.

We may seek cognitive resolution: we may seek to meld beliefs, attitudes, perspective. This is hard, and not always necessary to ending a dispute. The retailer and I do not have to hold the same belief systems to work out our service problem. On the other hand, member-owners of a family business may have to work at this level if the business is to survive and thrive.

We may seek emotional resolution: we may seek to deescalate the energy that has ramped up in the bungled attempt to express the problem clearly and rationally. The retailer and I will most certainly have to do this work if I’ve been rude.

We may seek behavioral resolution: we may seek to have the other party agree to a change in behavior of some sort. This is also hard, because we don’t like being compelled to change. The retailer and I can get stuck here too. My complaint may require him to change the way he runs his business. He may have to change the what he does for me, and then also for other customers like me. It may cost him more. It may impact his profit.

Conflict resolution is fraught, complex and elusive. But, we have the science. We know what works to resolve disputes without violence and retribution. When conflict is resolved in this way, we raise the odds that we get some of what we want. Maybe we also get a few extra things we are happy about: things that we couldn’t have imagined were possible or desirable before we began seeking a resolution. When conflict is resolved without violence or retribution, agreements stick and lives resume with less damage to valued relationships.

It’s worth considering that upping your game as a resolver is worth the effort. It’s the generous thing to do.