Sort it out!

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am

Conflict is a part of life: conflict at school (That's my seat!), conflict at home (Do we have to watch this?) and conflict at work (I'm doing all the work!). But conflict isn't necessarily bad if you know how to deal with it. Handled well, conflict strengthens a relationship. Handled poorly, it causes resentment. Here are six tips to help you conquer life's daily battles.

Deal with conflict quickly

Most conflict situations are unpleasant, so it's tempting to avoid dealing with them. But conflicts don't resolve themselves, and often get worse if you let them fester. That's why it's important to deal with conflict quickly - ideally on the same day it occurs. The key is to focus not on how you feel, but on how best to resolve the issue.

Listen to the other person

When people disagree, they often try to out-talk each other. As the argument progresses, no one is really listening, and finding a solution becomes impossible. Instead of focusing on yourself, stop and listen to the other person - even if you don't agree. Respect their viewpoint and ask questions if you don't understand - someone has to take the first step towards a solution.

Watch what you say

Remember the nursery rhyme 'sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me'? Well, it's not true. Words do hurt, and you can't take them back. Instead of hurling insults at the other person, stop and take 10 deep breaths. Then explain how you feel in a calm and positive way. For example, instead of saying 'Would you do some work for a change?' try 'I could use some help because I can't do this project all on my own'.

Define the problem

Always approach a problem thinking that it can be solved. Start by defining it in terms of both people's needs. Find out why the other person wants what they do. For example, Jack says: 'I can't study because I'm hot. I'm going to open the window.' Jane says: 'But I want the window kept closed.' Jack asks: 'Why?' Jane answers: 'Because I have the flu.' Only when both parties understand each other's needs, can they begin to work out a solution.

Brainstorm solutions

Once you've defined the problem, brainstorm possible solutions. In Jack and Jane's case, they could open a window in an adjoining room, Jane could put on a jumper, or they could study in separate areas. It's important not to rule out any ideas at the brainstorming stage. Responses such as 'That's a terrible idea!' will only make the other person defensive.

Select the best solution

The best solution is the one that satisfies both parties. When deciding on a solution, first ask which of the proposed solutions the other person prefers. Then say which looks best to you. See if your choices coincide. If not, find an acceptable compromise for both parties.

Conflict Quiz

Write True or False for each statement.

1. If you're upset with friends or family, it's best to say nothing.

2. In a conflict situation, listening means you agree with the other person.

3. Discussing your needs in a conflict situation is aggressive.

4. The best solution to a problem is the one that satisfies both parties.

5. Screaming and shouting is the best way to sort out a conflict.


1. False. Situations don't change unless you talk about them.

2. False. Listening shows you're trying to understand the other person's point of view.

3. False. Telling others what you need is not aggressive. You should say it politely.

4. True. A solution that suits only one person isn't a solution.

5. False. Talking and listening is the only way to sort out a conflict.