As some schools make the decision to resume remote learning in the fall and people continue to telework to stay safe during the pandemic, many are finding themselves spending more time in the home with their loved ones. While all this time together may often strengthen relationships, sometimes tensions and disharmony occur. Learning to handle these stressful situations in healthy and productive ways can sometimes be difficult.

Tips on Conflict Resolution

We asked the Conflict Resolution Center of Baltimore County (CRCBC) to share a few tips for navigating these challenges. Here is what they shared.

Address the Conflict Directly

Make time to address the conflict directly with the person with whom you have the problem. One of the biggest misconceptions we have around conflict today is that venting is acceptable only among your family, friends and coworkers—so you are steeled to go into your heated conflict with a rigid composure. Being so focused on remaining relatively calm leads to both parties avoiding the reasoning and topics that underlie conflict. It is exactly these difficult or heated conversations you’re avoiding that hold the key to a resolution.

A true resolution comes from seeking to be understood and seeking to understand directly with the person involved with you in the conflict. You can certainly speak with your friends, but you also need to directly address the person you’re in conflict with—with the goal of working on understanding each other better.

Work on understanding the other person you are in conflict with. Ask open-ended questions to get a fuller picture of what’s going on for the other person in this dispute. Go into your conversation with curiosity, like an archaeologist uncovering new artifacts and asking how this new piece of information fits into the overall picture—not like a prosecutor who’s armed with evidence, ready to box someone into a corner.

Examples of open-ended questions, include:

● You said “x,”what do you mean by that?

● Can you tell me more about why “z” is important to you?

Be Clear About What You Need

Be clear about what you need from the situation. Most conflicts arise from miscommunication, which on its face, makes solving them seem easy. Many people think “I just need to communicate more,” but for conflicts you’re having trouble solving with your normal communication style, just doing more of the same isn’t going to advance the situation. Miscommunication tends to happen around both parties’ values and we don’t usually speak directly to values in everyday life. Say what you need in a way that is respectful to you and others. Remember, the goal is for you to be heard. It is not to slam other people or minimize your own needs.

An example of being clear about what you need might look like this: “I need my privacy [value]. I’m annoyed because I’ve said this a lot. I need you to knock before you come in.” This direct style of communication goes much further than “What on earth is your problem!?! Ever heard of knocking?”

Stay on Topic

Stay on topic. Oftentimes, you may find that issues come into the conversation that don’t directly pertain to the topic. Staying focused on the central issues to your dispute and not going off on tangents, helps to make things much less overwhelming and more manageable.

Lay Your Assumptions Out

Lay your assumptions out in the conversation. It helps to understand how you came to those conclusions, to help the other person understand where you’re coming from. They can either confirm you were correct, or help you understand what you’ve misunderstood, so you can move forward with a joint foundation to the discussion, and ultimately, resolution.

Examples of laying your assumptions out include:

● I assumed “x” because of “y” (i.e. our past history, something you said five days ago, the way you manage your vacation time, etc.). Is that how you think things will pan out?

● I assumed we’d resolve it this way because of “y.” What would doing it this way mean to you?

Contact CRCBC

Having these types of conversations takes practice, but support is a call away. The CRCBC provides conflict resolution services at no-cost to community members who live and work in Baltimore County. If you need assistance, contact them to learn more about their Community Mediation, Community Conferencing and other restorative justice services and education. Feel free to reach out for help by calling 443-297-7897 or emailing mediation@crcbaltimorecounty.org.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources from our catalog as recommended by CRCBC:

“Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone, et al.

“Talking from 9 to 5” by Deborah Tannen

“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson

“Getting to Yes” by William Ury

For kids: “Enemy Pie” by Derek Munson