Resolving Every Day Conflicts

Every day conflicts

We often find ourselves in conflict with our colleagues; this can be over priorities, agendas, budgets, timetables, holiday dates or many of the thousands of small issues that we have to deal with every day.



Resolving these conflicts usually will involve applying many of the techniques outlined in the module. Most frequently we start by attempting to persuade the other party to accept our position. If the difference between the parties is a function of a misunderstanding, then possibly an explanation will be enough to remove the source of the conflict. However, experience has shown that people are not necessarily logical when it comes to adopting a position. Sometimes they do not put their own financial self-interest first, instead they react emotionally; in these circumstances persuasion will almost certainly fail.

Ask yourself whether the other person who is responding emotionally rather than rationally to the situation. If they are, then persuasion alone will not work and you will have to adopt another approach.

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Circular argument

A common feature of emotional argument is when the same arguments are repeated with the same result. If you recognise that you are in a circular argument, then you need to break out of it by making a proposal. If the other party keeps repeating their case it can be a useful technique for you to summarise in a neutral manner what their position is. This will demonstrate to them that you have understood their point of view, although you may not agree with it, and there is little point in them keeping repeating the same argument.

Persuasion does have a part to play in the negotiating process, so do not rule it out entirely. It is often worth pointing out to the other person the cost of not agreeing, particularly if the costs (consequences) to them are higher than the costs and consequences for you.


Delay or Postpone

It is common for people to postpone or delay dealing with the conflict in the hope that the problem will disappear or resolve itself. Sometimes it will move the power balance in favour of one or other of the parties. Consider carefully whose interest will be served by delay.

If there is a hard deadline then this can apply pressure to the parties to settle. Imposing an artificial deadline can be a double-edged sword; before the deadline the power may lie with one party, but if the deadline is passed and no consequences flow from it, then the power can shift to the other party. So, deadlock, postponement, or delay can be useful and legitimate negotiating tactics.


Can you remove the cause of the conflict?

Problem solving is an excellent technique where both parties have a common view of the problem and a joint interest in solving it. However, in many situations the parties will a different view of the problem, indeed one party might not perceive there to be a problem at all, in which case problem solving will not work. We can imagine a domestic situation where one partner raises a problem with the other. What they really seek is sympathy and understanding but often what they will get is a problem-solving approach.

Attempt to identify source of the problem and see whether the other party agrees that there is a problem and at agrees that it is the same problem; in these circumstances problem solving may work.

A benefit of problem solving is that it might reduce the size of the conflict between the parties while still leaving a gap which needs to be negotiated. One might imagine an aeroplane crash where all parties wish to identify the cause of the accident, the problem. Once the cause has been identified and addressed it will still leave a negotiation about the liability and who pays.


Impose your solution

It is perfectly possible in many situations for one party to impose their solution on the other. Where there is an imbalance of power, the more powerful party will be able to ignore the weaker party. In one-off relations it usually does not matter that one party has been forced to give in, but most of our relationships are ongoing and so the consequences of us taking unilateral action may have repercussions in the future.

People resent others ignoring their wishes and so will seek to get even the next time that the power balance is reversed. So, before you impose your view unilaterally, question the possible consequences for your future relationship with the other party.


Giving in

Many people are uncomfortable with conflict, so they avoid it by giving in. Not only does this mean that they never get what they want, it also creates an expectation that they will give in the next time, in similar circumstances.

You should consider the precedents that you may be creating by just giving in. Other parties in a similar situation might use the precedent of your unilateral concession to claim similar concessions. Thus, while the cost of giving in, in a particular situation might be small, the knock-on effect can be significant.



Many people think that negotiating is about “splitting the difference”. This may be appropriate in some situations where people are in dispute about a quantity, perhaps price. By splitting the difference both parties may feel that they have achieved something without just giving in completely. However, in many situations splitting the difference can leave both parties with an inadequate solution. Some elements do not lend themselves to being divided in half; imagine a dispute over the ownership of a car, you cannot half a car is useless; the whole has to go to one party or the other. If you are confronted with dividing an indivisible element, then consider using TIME as a variable. For example, divorcing parents arguing over access to children might agree that the time each gets to spend is a simple way of splitting the difference.

There is a danger in adopting this approach if you deal with the other party on a regular basis. If the parties start from different positions and haggle to some point in the centre then that may encourage the other party to start from a more extreme position in future, in the hope that the settlement point will be close to their ideal position. Even in a one-off situations, market traders in many developing countries know that by asking the tourists for a very high price and then coming down by 50% will often make the tourist pay over the odds for the item while feeling they got a good deal although the price paid may still be excessive.



Before we turn to negotiation let us consider what might happen if the parties cannot resolve their differences. In many situations there will be a higher authority to whom the parties can appeal for a decision on the conflict; a line manager, an ombudsman or an arbitrator. The problem here is that the judgment of the arbitrator may not suit you.

So called “pendulum arbitration” is where the parties agree that the “winner” will get 100% and “loser” will get nothing; perhaps on the toss of a coin. This type of arbitration is designed to keep the parties negotiating rather than risk being left with nothing at all.



Which brings us to negotiation as a means of resolving differences. Negotiation requires that there is a need on both sides which can be met by the other party. It requires that the parties can communicate with each other.  Sometimes this need to be through an intermediary or a “back channel”.  Finally, they are able to implement whatever agreement has been reached.

We can think of negotiating as an enabling process, rather than a blocking process; our idea of negotiating is not, “How can I stop them getting that?” rather “How can I give the other party what they want, on my terms?”.

In negotiation we will often find that our values and priorities are different from the other side.  This allows us to concede things that we value less, in exchange for things that we value more. Negotiating is fundamentally a trading process and so you need to have areas of flexibility; things that you are willing to concede in order to gain things that you value more.

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Conflicts are the grit of every day life.  We resolve them in a number of different ways, usually by combining several of the means listed above. You might persuade them to drop part of a claim, delay another item, agree to remove a problem, go 50:50 on an item, or trade to get 100% of what you want on your priorities, while giving up others that are less important.

Step back from the conflict and consider what is causing it.  Is it really necessary to approach your objective in the way you are doing, or is there another route to achieving the same goal?

The Scotwork Essentials modules are designed to help you with issues that need to be negotiated rather than using the other methods.

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