Conflict Resolution

by Aled Davies

The key skills and attitudes required

To be effective at resolving conflict, you need to develop the correct attitudes and appropriate skill set.


Think of the attitude as the 3 Cs

  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Curiosity

The skills

  • Listening – the ability to listen without prejudice or judgement is a core skill that differentiates run-of-the-mill from excellent conflict resolution practitioners. Effective listening requires a huge amount of focus and concentration, because you are listening to the things that are both being said and not being said (see Listening Skills).
  • Summarising – you will hear a vast array of facts, feelings and interests when you are resolving conflicts. Summarising is an effective tool: not only does it help you keep on top of the process, but it’s also an excellent way to build rapport by demonstrating that you are acknowledging and listening to the other person’s issues and concerns. Summarising is also an incredibly useful technique to use if you are in any doubt on how to proceed with discussions and need to buy some thinking time (see Listening Skills, The art of reflecting).
  • Questioning – the quality of your questioning will determine the quality of the responses you get. An effective mediator will be able to ask the appropriate question at the right moment to elicit the necessary information. So to gather information about the person’s issues and concerns, you’ll need to be asking open questions that get the parties talking and opening up. Asking closed questions early on can make parties feel as though they’re being cross-examined (see Questioning Skills).
  • Examples of open questions – ‘Tell me about..?’, ‘How has that affected you?’, ‘What would you do if... ?’ Open questions will give you information.
  • Closed questions, such as ‘Did that affect X?’, will elicit a yes/no answer.
  • Reframing – reframing is a useful technique for taking the sting out of (or removing the blame from) a statement or for shifting someone’s thinking from negative to positive. So you might reframe the following statements:
  • He’s always belittling me in front of the others by constantly talking over me and cutting me off – he’s just a bully

Reframed to – It’s important for him to get his point across and he often does this quite forcefully. I get frustrated by it because I also want to get my views heard

  • It’s hopeless; I just can’t see a way forward – Alan is just so obstructive

Reframed to – you feel a bit stuck right now because you haven’t yet found the right solution and you’re not finding Alan’s behaviour helpful

  • I swear if he calls me by that nickname again I’ll take that bloody stapler and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine...

Reframed to – You sound really angry because you want to be treated respectfully and be called to by your Christian name and not any other, and if you’re not, you’d really like to let him know how angry you feel!

  • Expressing empathy – giving someone empathy is all about viewing the world and their experiences from their position. Stepping into another person’s shoes can help you to acknowledge their concerns, fears or frustrations. Giving empathy is also one of the most powerful ways of building rapport with someone. (see Emotional Intelligence – Empathy)

Empathy is different from sympathy, so be aware of this. Sympathy, while usually meant with positive intentions, can often come across as patronising.

  • Rapport building– having rapport with another party doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree with their position nor should it imply that you collude with their behaviour. Rapport is essential if you want to win the trust of the other parties (see Rapport).
  • Maintaining a resourceful state – it’s highly unnatural for most people to remain calm when faced with conflict. It is actually far more important that you remain resourceful.
  • Be aware of your emotional state.
  • Also be aware of your breathing. If you notice that your breathing is shallow and fast, begin to take slow deep breaths from your belly. This will get more oxygen into your system and help bring your heart rate down a few beats, all of which will help you think rationally and access any strategies or skills that you have to manage the situation.
  • Declare your state both to yourself and, if you feel confident enough, also to the other party. Feelings buried alive never die and by simply acknowledging to yourself that you’re feeling anxious, scared or otherwise will all help you remain resourceful when under stress and pressure (see NLP-Managing your state and Emotional Intelligence – Self management).
  • Assertiveness – typical conflict behaviours are either aggressive, passive or passive aggressive. The assertive person knows how to express their needs and interests honestly, clearly and appropriately. Assertiveness also means respecting the needs and interests of the other person, looking for win:win answers and knowing that you may not always get what you want. By being assertive, you will often be able to avoid conflict altogether and will also be able first, to avoid getting drawn into other people’s conflicts and second, to help resolve conflicts when they occur (see Assertiveness).