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There is no easy way to resolve conflict situations. The aim is to find ways
to increase trust, decrease fear and make some level of co-operation possible.
Temporary agreements, small compromises, and practical steps to improve the
situation are of more value than grand schemes with no real impact.
The Four Steps to Conflict Resolution provide a helpful tool to analyse conflict
in such a way that can lead to a peaceful resolution.
The four steps to conflict resolution
STEP 1: What is the problem? What has happened?
The first step is to describe the problem in a way that everyone can agree,
e.g. 'there is a disagreement about…' or 'one person would like to… which conflicts
with the other person's desire to ….' etc. An objective look at the problem
is needed so the problem can be attacked, not the person.
STEP 2: How do you feel about it?
The next step is to honestly express feelings like fear, anger and insecurity
as well as positive ones. Feelings form a vital part of the conflict whether
they are 'justified' from an outsider's viewpoint or not. It is important to
state feelings as 'I STATEMENTS' e.g. 'I feel I cannot rely on him/her…' Avoid
judgements e.g. 's/he is unreliable…'
STEP 3: What would you like to happen?
Don't talk about what should have happened or who is to blame for the problem.
Nothing will change the past! Instead spend time discussing ideas about what
you'd like to happen now. What's most important? What's least important? What
do you most want to avoid happening? All ideas should be considered in order
to find the best solution. What is important to each group in the conflict should
STEP 4: What could actually be done?
Lastly decide on practical steps, acceptable to all sides, that will improve
the situation. List a whole range of possible options before having a critical
look at what might actually work. Ask questions such as 'Is it fair?', 'What
would it cost?', 'Whom does it help?' and 'Who will pay?' There probably won't
be a perfect solution. All change will cost something in time, money, and/or
What happens next?
When a compromise is reached after going through 'The Four Steps' it may need
to be evaluated after a time. 'The Four Steps' can be used again to identify
new actions that might improve matters even further.
Sometimes the decision is to keep the present situation, as it is more acceptable
than what would be required to compromise. On the other hand the present situation
may be acceptable for one side, but not the other. If conflict resolution fails
to bring about a compromise then one or both parties could choose to resolve
their conflict by other methods e.g. force or withdrawal. In the end the cost
is usually greater.
The goal is that by the end of the conflict resolution process, enough trust
and mutual concern has been built that no one wants to leave anyone in an intolerable
situation even if the change costs something. If this does not happen, the person
for whom the situation is not tolerable might seek ways to escalate the conflict
until it becomes in the interest of the other to resolve it.
Tips for conflict resolution
by Katy Harris, Conflict Resolution Advisor, Toronto Board of Education.
- Choose one conflict situation you have faced over the last week. Think
about situations at home with your family and at school with your friends
- Use the Four
Step Conflict Resolution Template to help you think about the conflict
and how it could be resolved. This file is in PDF format. Click
here if you need to download a programme to read the file.
- Get into small groups and choose one of your conflict situations.
a) Use the Four Step Conflict Resolution Template to work out each person’s
perspective and a resolution.
b) Role play this situation so that you resolve the conflict peacefully
- Present your role play to the class. Get the class to observe how
many of the tips for conflict resolution were used. At the end of the
role play the class should give feedback on what they observed.
- Have a discussion about how realistic the Four Step Conflict Resolution
is to real life. What advantages would you gain if you put them into
practise each time you were in a conflict situation?