Continuing Education

The Art of Managing Conflict

The majority of us spend our days avoiding conflict, but as we have all discovered time and again, it’s simply not that easy. In a world of diverse personalities where each of us hold our Imageexperience and opinions dear, it is inevitable we will encounter tension with others at home or in the workplace.  As Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Leadership instructor James Gilman points out, “It seems as if tension and conflict partly define what it means to be human. (Therefore) the ability to resolve conflict is perhaps the most practical life-skill a person can cultivate and exercise.  It is beneficial to learn and practice the art of resolving conflict—the art of mediating conflict. By doing so we become better leaders, managers, friends, parents, spouses, and indeed, better human beings.”

As Gilman discovered, many of us do not only actively seek to avoid conflict; we live in fear of it. “Unless we learn the art of resolving conflict, fear can hold us hostage and immobilize us as leaders and as partners,” he says.  “So, learning the art of managing conflict can bring enormous benefits to people, both in their personal and in their professional lives.”

Consider the daily experience of a manager of a fully staffed office space. “Managers spend about 1/4th of their time managing conflict,” says Gilman.  “That may sound like a shocking waste of company time and energy, but it need not be.”  

Indeed, the office workday need not be life in the trenches. “In fact, conflict can be an opportunity for creative, constructive growth,” says Gilman. “Conflicts are the lifeblood of high performing people and high performing organizations. Disputes and diverse points of view Imageabout strategy and implementation create new ideas, renewed energy, innovation, and extraordinary vision.”

As a professional mediator, Gilman will be the first to tell you people who have developed skills in the area of mediation and leadership are bound to flourish in their personal and professional life. “Studying the nature of conflict, the causes of conflict, and styles of dealing with conflict, a person is better equipped to manage and resolve conflict. By studying the nature and steps to collaborative negotiation, a person places themselves and family and friends and colleagues in a position to resolve conflicts fairly, reciprocally, and peacefully.”

According to the site Skills You Need, “It’s also helpful to understand and recognize emotion in both yourself and others. Emotions are never good or bad, but simply appropriate or inappropriate, and it’s useful in managing conflict to help others recognize when emotions are inappropriate, and when it’s fine to express them.” Gilman complements this perspective with his work, “By learning and practicing fundamental communication skills—active listening, summarizing, feeding back, self-disclosing I statements, reframing, questioning, brainstorming—not only are hostile and intense  emotions defused, but mutual understanding and cooperation are cultivated.”

Now is a particularly vital time for all of us to evaluate our ability to resolve conflict. Consider Imagehow many barriers we can bring down by exploring what it means to create a common ground of understanding. “Conflict seems to be everywhere,” says Gilman. “The good news is that conflict can be an opportunity for productive resolutions and innovations. Leaders are not successful by accident. Among other things, they have learned skills of effective communication and negotiation.  Both at home, at work, and at play, leaders are skilled at turning adversity into occasions for creative collaboration and innovative solutions.”

Learn more about Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Leadership.

Photo credit #1: Santa Clara Divorce Mediation_cc_2.0
Photo credit #2: Douglas Bittinger_cc_2.0
Photo credit #3: Amicus2012_cc_2.0

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