How to navigate conflict gracefully

Prepare, practice, and communicate

Conflicts are handled best when they are approached directly and honestly, Elizabeth Suárez writes for Inside Higher Ed.

According to Suárez, an alternative dispute resolution professional, many people would rather avoid conflict than address it, particularly in non-confrontational situations. People act passive-aggressively and the problem doesn't get resolved.  However, the reluctance to tackle confrontation head-on can be overcome with empathy and preparation. Suárez shares her three-step approach to dealing with conflict.

1. Prepare

Sufficient preparation is crucial when delving into conflict. It's important to consider the other party's point of view in order to truly understand the problem. Consider what factors may be driving the conflict on the other side.

Create a road map outlining how the discussion should play out and consider some of the arguments that may arise. The preparation stage also serves as an opportunity to recognize and manage passive-aggressive behavior.

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2. Practice

Rehearse the conflict conversation to get a better feel for what to expect. Not only will you be more comfortable discussing the issue at hand, but you will also have an easier time finding the words to come toward a resolution.  Seek a mentor, adviser, or close friend to help you act out the situation through role-playing.

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3. Communicate

Now that you're face-to-face with the other party, there are four steps to keep in mind:

  • Acknowledge the other person's frustrations and complaints;
  • Make eye contact (assuming it is culturally appropriate);
  • Provide information and ask questions; and
  • Reassure the other person that you are both working toward the same goal (Suárez, Inside Higher Ed, 5/2).

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