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Conflict can ignite from the smallest word or action and can spark destructive responses and behaviors. Unresolved or poorly navigated conflict can damage and even destroy relationships. However, onflict does not have to be destructive. Handled effectively, conflict can actually contribute to stronger, deeper relationships and can help to address ongoing problems and concerns. Effective communication skills serve a key role in successfully resolving conflict, both in the home and in the workplace.
Navigating an Argument
One of the primary communication skills for resolving conflict successfully is learning how to navigate an argument effectively. This includes keeping the focus on a single issue and avoiding personal attacks. Stewart Levine, in “Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration,” stresses that reaching resolution involves “addressing your real concerns” and “getting to the core of the conflict.” Active listening skills, such as talking less and asking questions for clarity, also play a role in effectively resolving conflict. Practicing strong verbal and nonverbal communication further contributes toward the successful resolution of conflict, whether between individuals or within a group.
Effective Communication Skills
An effective communication skill for successfully resolving conflicts is to address only one issue at a time and avoid introducing other topics, even if they are related. Clearly specify what you are concerned about, even if it takes some time to isolate the primary issue at hand. Also, avoid attacking the other person or making accusations, which will only lead to distrust and defensiveness. To listen effectively, take care to make sure you understand what the other person is trying to say, restating that person’s thoughts and feelings as needed. Strong verbal and nonverbal communication involves making appropriate eye contact, not using threatening physical actions, and verbally expressing how the situation makes you feel, instead of attacking or accusing the other person.
One of the primary challenges of effective communication is preventing conflict escalation. In “Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions,” Dan O’Hair, Gustav W. Friedrich and Lynda Dee Dixon explain that conflict escalation “is particularly troublesome because, once it starts, it can perpetuate itself.” Conflict escalation can result in broken communication, false assumptions and negative commitments, all of which can further complicate the initial conflict. In these situations, O’Hair, Friedrich and Dixon say the help of “a third party or a mediator” may be needed to help those involved “move back to positions of normalcy and objectivity.”
There are many benefits that come from learning to resolve conflicts through effective communication. One notable benefit of using effective communication to resolve conflict is a reduction in anxiety, whether within a family or in the workplace. As Levine points out, “conflict has an emotional cost that remains after the battle is over,” and unresolved conflict ultimately impedes “satisfying, functional relationships.” Successfully resolving conflict also brings about greater trust and intimacy in relationships. Learning effective communication skills can help you to avoid the ongoing stress and discomfort that often results from unresolved conflict.
Learning effective communication skills is only part of successfully resolving conflict. To navigate conflict, prioritize and strengthen your relationship with a family member, friend or coworker. As long as you focus first on the relationship, you will better be able to walk through the conflict in constructive ways. Also, consider how to best address the conflict at hand, seeking to understand the situation from the perspective of the other person. Successfully resolving conflict involves empathy, flexibility and maturity as much as it does effective communication.
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- “Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration”; Stewart Levine; 2009
- “Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions”; Dan O’Hair, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Lynda Dee Dixon; 2005
- Conflict Resolution Skills: Managing & Resolving Conflict in a Positive Way
Christine Switzer has been a freelance writer since 2007. She contributes to travel and regional periodicals such as "Georgetown View" and "Burlington the Beautiful" and she enjoys writing on travel, lifestyle and the workplace. Switzer holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in English and has taught university courses in communication, public speaking and journalism.
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