Resolving Conflict Effectively (An Encore), Plus a New Collection

by Kassandra Lamb ~ I’m still up to my elbows in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post I also mentioned recently in my Trust Your Gut post; this one is on resolving conflict effectively.

It seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor in our society these days, we need to learn how to dig beneath the surface and find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can resolve conflict effectively…

I first learned this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is a great approach to resolving conflict.

resolving conflict effectively
This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness will keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief.

But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps for resolving conflict effectively (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY.

The first step is the easiest. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface.

Resolving Conflict doesn’t have to mean a Compromise

If the earlier steps are done properly, then step 4 usually isn’t hard. Often, we’re told that in order to resolve conflict effectively, we have to compromise (i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want.)

Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution that gives both parties ALL of what they want. But we have to look for it.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm.

resolving conflict effectively
photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

The Empathize Step is harder

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart chat?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I; I’m thinking of you, Joe H.).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse).

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

resolving conflict effectively
photo by Jamie Street on

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The Solution Step was easy once the other steps were done well

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What is your favorite approach to resolving conflict?

And that New Collection…

The Kate Huntington Mysteries Collection III, Books 7-8, plus 2 novellas

Releases 5/21/22 ~ Only 99¢ for a very limited time!

When Kate Huntington became a psychotherapist, she never imagined it could be this dangerous…

Fatal Forty-Eight ~ Celebration turns to nightmare when Kate’s former boss disappears from her own office the night of her retirement party. Sally Ford has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas ~ A high school reunion is innocent enough, right? Not when it’s Kate Huntington’s husband’s high school in the Texas hometown he fled as soon as he graduated. New disputes are heaped on top of old animosities, and someone ends up dead.

Suicidal Suspicions ~ Kate is rocked to the core when a client commits suicide. Or was it murder? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, Kate feels compelled to investigate.

Missing on Maui ~ Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Kate is kept busy refereeing between her soon-to-be-married niece and the mother of the bride, chasing down errant wedding party members, and facing off with a psychopath.


Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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