Tips for Transforming Conflict

By choosing to deal with conflict in a non-adversarial manner, we create a place where it is safe to disagree and contribute to transforming the way the world deals with conflict.

  • Accept that conflicts are a natural part of life: Many people share resources and space on this planet yet have vastly different cultures, histories, and norms. Conflict is a natural result of differences in the world.
  • Treat conflict as an opportunity: Conflicts don't have to be destructive. Instead, we can view conflict as an opportunity to grow, learn and improve relationships.
  • Be aware of your initial reaction and take a deep breath: Instead of giving in to an initial impulse to jump in and escalate the conflict, it's useful to pause and think about your approach.
  • Choose your approach: If you determine that the conflict is worth addressing, remember that you can choose between a win-lose approach - where we focus on each other as the problem - and a mutual gains approach - where we work together to identify separate and mutual need and interests.
  • Listen and learn: Conflicts are often based on stereotypes and lack of information-ask questions and listen until we truly understand each other's point of view. Truly hearing and being heard can actually transform a conflict.
  • Discover what's important: We tend to have disagreements over our positions-the way we see things or what we want. But we seldom talk about our interests and needs-the reasons why our positions are important to us. Often there is some overlap in interests and needs-the common ground where we are likely to find solutions.
  • Respect each other: An agreement can only hold if the parties grow to respect and trust one another. We need to take responsibility for our role in the conflict - blaming creates resentment and anger.
  • Find common ground: Finding common ground does not mean settling for the lowest common denominator. Finding common ground is creating a new "highest common denominator" by identifying something we can all work towards together.
  • Be creative: There are always many different ways to solve a problem - many different strategies by which to meet a need. The goal is to make sure we address the deep issues (not just the superficial symptoms) and generate as many options as possible.
(Adapted by University of California at Santa Cruz Ombuds from "Search for Common Ground", Used with permission.)