Conflict among people who are interacting is natural. Because it can be challenging to navigate differences in opinions, ideas, emotions, and behaviors, it is important to understand how conflict happens and how it can be resolved.
Here are just a few examples of conflicts that can occur among college students:
- Your roommate is playing loud music in your room, and you need some quiet to study for a test.
- You want to have a nice dinner out, but your spouse wants to save the money to buy new furniture.
- Your instructor gave you a C on a paper because it lacks some of the required elements, but you feel it deserves a better grade because you think it accomplished more important goals.
- Your babysitter cancelled again and you have an important exam.
How can such conflicts be resolved? To resolve conflict in a way that doesn’t leave one or more of the people involved feeling negative about the outcome, two things are necessary: the right attitude and effective communication.
A conflict cannot be resolved satisfactorily unless all people involved approach it with an appropriate attitude:
- Respect the options and behaviors of others. Accept that people are not all alike and learn to celebrate differences. Most situations do not involve a single right or wrong answer.
- Be open minded. Just because at first you are sure that that you are right, do not close the door to other possibilities. Look at the other’s point of view. Be open to change even when that means accepting constructive criticism.
- Calm down. It is very difficult to work together to resolve a conflict while you’re still feeling strong emotions. Agree to wait until you’re both able to discuss the conflict without strong emotions.
- Recognize the value of compromise. Even if you disagree after calmly talking over an issue, accept that as a human reality and understand compromise may be necessary in order to get along with others.
It is equally important to practice effective communication skills:
- Use “I statements” rather than “you statements” when each party explains what bothers him or her about the cause of the conflict. For example, don’t say, “You’re always playing loud music when I’m trying to study.” Instead, say, “I have difficulty studying when you play loud music, and that makes me frustrated and irritable.” You statements put the other person on the defensive and evoke emotions that make resolution more difficult.
- Listen carefully to what the other person says. Then restate the message in your own words to give the other a chance to clarify their thoughts and feelings. Each party should listen to the other and restate the other’s message to ensure the real issue is out on the table for discussion. Don’t forget to pay attention to body language and ask questions for clarification.
- Accept responsibility for your role in the conflict, instead of blaming the other. A good example of accepting responsibility is to say, “I know I’m always studying and need the quiet. I guess that makes it hard for you to listen to your music.”
- Brainstorm together to find a solution that satisfies both of you. Some compromise is usually needed, but that is usually not difficult to reach when you’re calm and working together on a solution. In this example, you might compromise by going elsewhere to study at selected times when the other person wants to listen to music, and the other person may compromise by agreeing to never play music after 10 pm or use headphones.
- Apologize, thank, and forgive. After reaching a resolution, emotional closure is needed to restore your relationship and end on a positive, affirming note. When appropriate, apologize for your past anger or arguing. Thank the other person for being willing to compromise to resolve the conflict. In your mind, forgive the person for past misunderstandings and actions so that you do not carry any grudge into the future.
Sometimes there seems to be no resolution. It happens on occasion that the other person may refuse to even try to work out a solution. Regrettably, not everyone on or off campus is open to other perspectives, so with some interpersonal conflicts, you may simply have to decide not to see that person anymore or find other ways to avoid the conflict in the future. However, most conflicts can be solved among adults, and it’s seldom a good solution to run away from a problem.
Learning strategies to resolve conflict will help you in college and in your future career and increases the chances you’ll be happy with your life.
What is one conflict you are experiencing right now? What do you think is the other person’s perspective? What responsibility do you bear in this situation? What I-statements could you use to begin resolving that conflict? When and where will you engage in that conversation?