OPINION: Dealing With Conflicts

By: Terfa Naswem

This is a long but important write-up. Take your time and read it carefully. It has a lot to learn from it. Happy reading.

Relating with others is one of the most important things to do in every society. It involves forming relationships and resolving conflicts with people of the same or different nationalities, races, tribes, religions, etc.

People who value themselves, because they are confident and happy, attract other people into friendship. A person’s friend can form a strong support system, which can be a great help in time of need. The members of your support system may be family members, neighbors, school friends, members of a sports team, people in a religious organization, a mentor or advisor, or a therapy or self-help group. Of course, the person participating in such friendships and social groups stands ready to give, as to receive, and so does not need to be embarrassed about asking for support sometimes.

Dealing with conflicts can either cause the severance of a friendship or make it stronger. It’s amazing how often people must deal with a conflict. Every day, at home, at school, at work, or out with friends, small situations occur and are settled without a fuss. Someone accidentally bumps into another, who good-naturedly steps aside. How is it, then, that a bump leads to a push, shoving becomes hitting, and a brawl erupts? The difference lies in people’s reactions to annoyance. The question to ask, therefore, is not whether you will experience conflicts, but how to handle them when they come up.

It is important to learn how to be cool but still stand your ground when conflict arises. If you don’t stay calm, the conflict could lead to violence. On the other hand, if you always give in to keep the peace, your needs may often go unmet. Or you may pretend to ignore the conflict, causing it to “go underground” and get worse.

There is a true tale of the outcome of conflict handled badly: Two families, the Hatfields and the McCoys, lived in the mountains on opposite banks of the river that separates eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Some claim the theft of a hog started it all, but whatever the first event, it ignited a 40-year feud that ravaged the two families, then their countries and finally even their states.

Viewing the “Enemy”: If you think a feud like the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys could never happen today, you are mistaken. The story demonstrates a dangerous change that occurs in the minds of people in conflict. At some point, they begin to view one another as “enemies” and start searching for evidence of one another’s villainy. According to the authors of Health: Making Life Choices, second edition, the Hatfields were missing a pig, someone reported seeing an extra pig at the McCoy’s place, the Hatfields retaliate, both sides heard rumors of other crimes, and the shooting started.

Problems quickly multiply. People embroiled in conflict stop communicating. Soon, they hate one another on vague principles. Then others “pick sides” and more and more people become involved. You may know of examples like these:

Your friends hate your “enemy’s” friends. Members of this group don’t speak with members of that group. People in his family cannot become friends with people in her family.

Trust or tolerance can be forever lost – unless someone stops the conflict. Before the end of the Hatfields and the McCoy’s feud, deadly deeds were done by both sides. Even more horrifying, though were the crimes each family imagined the other to have committed. Many friends and neighbors had also become involved. The governors of both states started bickering about the “crimes against their states” committed by the feuding neighbors. Incredibly, each of the two states armed its militia to do battle against the other, and the U.S. Supreme Court finally had to step in to prevent a war.

Eventually, the conflict eased and peace returned to the area. However, terrible damage had been done. Most members of the two families had been killed or ailed, their homes burned down, and their mountain lands lost to creditors. The moral of the story: conflicts tend to pick up steam unless somebody does something to release the pressure.

Luckily, most conflicts can end happily, or at least less disastrously. Resolving a conflict takes courage and work, but it can be done.

The first task in resolving a conflict is to establish that true conflict exists. People naturally express different viewpoints, or react differently to the same events, and these differences are best tolerated. Also, some people waste energy dwelling on a past wrongdoing, but no one can go back and change the past.

True conflict, though, is another matter. Left unsettled, conflict can ruin relationships; interfere with work or school performance, and even lead to violent acts of revenge, especially when people believe their honor is at stake. Conflicts if well-handled, can end constructively. People who face up to their disagreements with others are motivated to make things better. All sorts of ideas, innovations, and inventions have sprung from what were, at first, uncomfortable situations.

With the right attitude, people can break down barriers and create more trust-essential for resolving conflict. Both parties should adjust their attitudes to do the following :

Ø Desire resolution: have a genuine desire to solve the problem.

Ø Join in teamwork: be willing to work together toward finding a solution.

Ø Strive for win-win: know that if each person helps meet the other’s needs, everyone’s needs can be satisfied.

Ø Honor the relationship: desire to maintain or improve the friendship, partnership, or community.

Ø Be flexible but firm: be flexible on how needs are met; be firm that one’s needs will be met.

Ø Be sincerely apologetic when appropriate.

Ø Show courage: have courage to face the problem even while feeling threatened or afraid of hurting other’s feelings.

Ø Be open-minded: be willing to brainstorm and listen to all ideas for new solutions, even if the ideas are later discarded.

With the attitudes described above, people can approach resolving their conflicts.



Of great importance during a conflict is your style of communication. You have to perform a sort of balancing act between getting what you want and meeting the needs of others. They happy center between the extremes of never speaking out and verbally attacking others is assertive behavior, rather than passive or aggressive behavior.

To be assertive is to say what you mean – not to tiptoe around and drop hints, at the one extreme, and not to attack the other person, at the other. Assertiveness does not come naturally to many people. They may not even value it. They may think it’s selfish. However, assertiveness has great value when problems must be worked out.

Assertiveness is the key to getting cooperation and resolving conflicts. It makes it easier, not harder, for people to get along with you.

Assertive means possessing the characteristic of appropriately expressing feelings, wants, and needs while respecting those of others. Assertiveness is the key to obtaining cooperation.

Passive means possessing the characteristic of not expressing feelings appropriately, of remaining silent.

Aggressive means possessing the characteristic of being insulting or overly demanding to others or otherwise invading their territory; an inappropriate expression of feelings.

THE MEDIATOR’S ROLE: Sometimes the help of a neutral third party can move people in conflict closer to resolution. In the Hatfield and McCoy story, a mediator – in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court – stepped in to help separate real issues from imaginary ones. Mediators can be guidance counselors, teachers, friends, or anyone who can lend a clear head.

A mediator meets with both parties, but stays neutral (that is, doesn’t take sides). This gives each party time to tell its version of what happened, with no interruptions. The mediator then helps to identify the facts and issues that are common to both parties. Many times, a mediator can help the arguing parties to respect each other, to wait while the other talks, and to tell the truth. Once everyone agrees on the same set of facts, solutions become possible.
Conflicts are normal in relationships. Assertive communication and conflict resolution strategies can often prevent escalation of conflicts.


1. GIVING IN: One person yielding to the other person’s wishes.

Good Uses: Use when issues are not critical to your needs. Use as a way to bargain – give in or an unimportant item in exchange for something you truly want and need. Giving in saves time and hassles. It lets people know you are flexible and willing to bargain.

Cautions: Your needs may be overlooked. Giving in to bullying or threats invites more of the same. If you give in too quickly, you may feel cheated, angry, manipulated, or resentful and so perpetuate the conflict.

2. WALKING AWAY: One party physically of psychologically leaves the conflict.

Good Uses: Use when cooling off is needed – when your or another’s anger rises – to avoid the threat of violence. Use when you need time to think about other opinions that are open to you.

Cautions: The conflict may continue unresolved, and may worsen if not addressed. A mediator, or a third person who wants to help resolve the conflict, can sometimes help to get problem solving back on track.

3. DOING NOTHING: Both sides ignore the problem.

Good Uses: Use when time will cure the problem – for example, when one party is leaving town soon, or when classes will soon change. Use when the problem feels unimportant to both parties.

Cautions: Hostility can go “underground” to silently grow worse. The problem can compound. The parties may feel stress and discomfort in each other’s presence.

4. FIGHTING DIRTY: One party attempts to “win” by underhanded means, such as lying, manipulating (pouting or crying), threatening, blaming and calling names. These tactics press the other person’s “hot buttons” and bring up sensitive issues to which the person reacts defensively.

Good Uses: None.

Cautions: Fighting dirty clouds issues and often worsens conflicts.

5. CONSTRUCTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING: Both parties understand that they have much to gain by resolving the conflict, and they work toward solutions.

Good Uses: Use when both parties are competing for the same resources. This is especially important when the issues are critical to your needs. The more important the issue, the more urgently you need to solve the problem. When the parties solve the issue together, it usually stays solved.

Cautions: Finding the solution takes work, and requires you to compromise. Both people must be willing to give up a little to come to an acceptable solution. Both parties must also agree to follow the ground rules and attitudes presented here.

Some methods of resolving conflicts work better than others, but all are shown for comparison. Conflict Resolution strategies give details about one method that usually works best: constructive problem solving. To use it effectively, the parties express their wants and needs, but at the same time respect the feelings of other people.


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