By Jason Cates ATC, LAT
NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers' Committee
District Six Representative
Have you ever found yourself in a dispute with a coach, parent, administrator, co-worker, another healthcare provider or even one of your athletes? How many times after the dust had settled did you wish you would have said this or did that? Even more so, how many times did you say or do something that you later regretted? Conflict is a part of everyday life and is unavoidable in personal relationships. As we are getting ready for a new school year to begin, our hope with this article is to give you tools to deal with conflict resolution in a healthy way.
Conflicts are a result of differences in opinions, perceptions, values or ideas. Partner these with differing viewpoints, then add your urge to feel that you are right or valued, and the conflict arises. When the conflict does arise it can become unhealthy when strong feelings, emotions or a strong personal relationship are at stake. Most often, each side is looking for closure and to prove that they were right.
Some other triggers for conflict are stress, lack of rest and/or an individual already being irritated by something that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. An individual can be consumed with other stressors that have been building up and the proverbial damn then breaks. These are things that need to be examined before raw emotions become involved. If you can legitimately recognize the result of the dispute, you can then open up to a compromise or understanding.
Successful conflict resolution depends on your ability to:
- Manage stress while remaining alert and calm. By staying calm, you can accurately read and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication.
- Control your emotions and behavior. When you’re in control of your emotions, you can communicate your needs without threatening, frightening or punishing others.
- Pay attention to the feelings being expressed as well as the spoken words of others.
- Be aware of and respectful of differences. By avoiding disrespectful words and actions, you can resolve the problem faster
There are “healthy” and “unhealthy” ways that we deal with conflicts. Unhealthy responses damage and can even terminate relationships. Healthy resolutions help by building trust, understanding and strengthen a relationship.
Unhealthy responses to conflict are characterized by:
- An inability to recognize and respond to matters of great importance to the other person.
- Explosive, angry, hurtful and resentful reactions.
- The withdrawal of feelings, resulting in rejection, isolation, shaming and fear of abandonment.
- The expectation of bad outcomes.
- The fear and avoidance of conflict.
Healthy responses to conflict are characterized by:
- The capacity to recognize and respond to important matters.
- A readiness to forgive and forget.
- The ability to seek compromise and avoid punishing.
- A belief that resolution can support the interests and needs of both parties.
Managing and resolving conflict requires emotional maturity, self-control and empathy. It can be tricky, frustrating and even frightening. You can ensure that the process is as positive as possible by sticking to the following conflict resolution guidelines:
- Make the relationship your priority. Maintaining and strengthening the relationship, rather than “winning” the argument, should always be your first priority. Be respectful of the other person and his or her viewpoint.
- Focus on the present. If you’re holding on to old hurts and resentments, your ability to see the reality of the current situation will be impaired. Rather than looking to the past and assigning blame, focus on what you can do in the hereandnow to solve the problem.
- Pick your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. Maybe you don't want to surrender a parking space if you’ve been circling for 15 minutes. But if there are dozens of spots, arguing over a single space isn’t worth it.
- Be willing to forgive. Resolving conflict is impossible if you’re unwilling or unable to forgive. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, which can never compensate for our losses and only adds to our injury by further depleting and draining our lives.
- Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. It takes two people to keep an argument going. If a conflict is going nowhere, you can choose to disengage and move on
Another tip for conflict resolution is becoming a better listener. Often we jump into our defense mode and we never listen to what the other person has to say.
Tips for being a better listener:
- Listen to the reasons the other person gives for being upset.
- Make sure you understand what the other person is telling you—from his or her point of view.
- Repeat the other person’s words, and ask if you have understood correctly.
- Ask if anything remains unspoken, giving the person time to think before answering.
- Resist the temptation to interject your own point of view until the other person has said everything he or she wants to say and feels that you have listened to and understood his or her message.
We hope that these tips for conflict resolution will benefit you and your relationships both with work and personally. Conflicts can arise at any time but we have a duty to always uphold ourselves in a professional manner while showing that we truly do care. Because at the end of the day almost always our conflicts are a result of how much we do care.
Fighting Fair To Resolve Conflict – Covers the causes of conflict, different conflict styles, and fair fighting guidelines to help you positively resolve disagreements. (University of Texas at Austin)
Conflict Resolution – Comprehensive resource on how to manage and resolve conflict. Includes About Conflict and 8 Steps for Conflict Resolution. (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
CR Kit – 12step conflict resolution training kit. Learn how to pursue a winwin approach, manage emotions, be appropriately assertive, map the conflict, and develop options. (The Conflict Resolution Network)
Conflict Resolution: Resolving Conflict Rationally and Effectively – Guide to conflict in the workplace and different conflict styles. Includes a 5step process for successful conflict resolution. (MindTools)
Tips for managing and resolving conflict
Resolving Conflict Constructively and Respectfully – Tips on how to manage and resolve conflict in a positive, respectful, and mutuallybeneficial way. (Ohio State University Extension)
How to Resolve Conflict – Advice on resolving differences and managing conflict between individuals, small groups, and organizations. (Roger Darlington)
Effective Communication – Article on the art of listening in conflict resolution. Includes tips on how to make your point effectively and negotiate conflict in principled, positive way. (University of Maryland) Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Last modified: September 2009.