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Conflict resolution

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 become clear.

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 emotional energy.

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.

  • Make the choice
  • Don't commit 'assumicide'
  • Calm down
  • Listen
  • Identify
  • Communicate
  • Solve
  • Ask for help
     Conflict resolution
  1. 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 and teachers.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 and successfully.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?