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How to dissolve conflict

Sarah Horrocks
by Sarah Horrocks Published on 25 June 2008
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We can't agree with everyone about everything, and even if conflict isn't exactly pleasant, we shouldn't avoid all conflict. Here’s our advice and solutions on managing differences of opinion.

- Renew dialogue
Very often discussions come to a dead end where neither will budge and you end up burying your head in the sand and agreeing to disagree. Even if this stops further arguments, it cancels out all forms of communication and of resolving the situation. Be smarter than the person you're arguing with and start dialogue up again after a few minutes, hours or days of silence. Use this time to perfect your arguments and understand the other person's. If you're a good writer, send them a short email to recap the situation and state both your positions. You can't be interrupted when you write and you can structure your ideas better.

- Lower your tone
Why shout? To make yourself heard. Shouting works well if you need to tell someone the building is on fire, but it's the last thing you should do during a discussion: not only because you might shout yourself hoarse without getting anywhere, but because the other person will only want to scream louder to get their point across. No-one listens or respects people who shout. Make like politicians: they have an army of PR and communication experts to advise them, and they (nearly) always keep their cool. Lower your tone, even if the other person shouts, and don't get annoyed. Your apparent calmness will destabilise them and help you get your ideas across more easily.

- Use humour
Ever noticed how much a little joke can lighten the atmosphere during a dramatic situation? Humour can dissolve conflict. It won't settle the problem, but it will reduce the intensity of it and help establish communication. But take care not to confuse it with irony which can irritate the other person. Find the right moment to smile, crack a little joke or use something to distract their attention for a few seconds (a silly ringtone, slip of the tongue or mispronunciation, for example).

- Put yourself in the other person’s place
In a conflict, everyone thinks that they are right and their only objective is to get people to see that their point of view is the best. Some people are incapable of listening to other people’s point of view and believe that all ways to get people to side with them are good as long as they serve their own interests. A person who jumps the queue to be served first, for example, won't listen to arguments!
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their position better and revise your own. Try to be as fair as possible and say ‘I understand your position.’ This magic little phrase can work wonders.

- Remain polite
It’s not always easy to avoid using profanities and insults when the person in front of you is angry, stubborn and doesn’t want to listen to anything you say...or worse, if they threaten and insult you. You lose all credibility if you sink to their level and insulting each other is no more use than a fist fight. Stay calm, breathe deeply and tell yourself that you can scream later when you’re alone in the toilets. Let the other person make themself look silly if they want to come out with insults, and when they've got it all off their chest ask them if they're ready to talk about it in a more civilised way.

by Sarah Horrocks

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