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Managing Conflict


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Conflict is defined as “A state of disharmony between incompatible or opposing persons, ideas, or interests; a clash”. A conflict is usually felt to be more serious than a disagreement between 2 or more people. It occurs when the individuals involved recognise there is a threat to their interests, needs or concerns; whether it is physical, emotional, power or status.

When you personally experience or witness conflict, it can trigger all sorts of responses, due to your own personal experience and understanding about what is ‘acceptable’. Your previous history, expectations and experiences, will influence the feelings, thoughts and response you have to the situation. Whilst disagreements are perfectly normal and can actually be a very helpful catalyst for change, conflict can also be very difficult to experience and can result in a breakdown in relationships, friendships or work colleague relationships.

Causes and effects of conflict

There are many causes of conflict, ranging from personal to professional issues between individuals, class groups and teams.

It is important to recognise that we will all have different levels of tolerance. Our personal circumstances, including our health, well-being, resources, workload and outlook in general, will all play a part in how we respond to disagreements and conflicts.

When conflict occurs, it will occasionally effect more than the individuals directly involved. All those who witness the disagreement can react, often causing divides, silence, fear, gossip and anxiety about the uncertainty of the situation.

When conflict is not managed well, then one or more of the people involved can be left feeling stressed, fearful and possibly powerless. Heightened feelings can result in irrational thinking, even the development of fear at being back in the environment the conflict took place or where the individuals involved may see each other.

Ways of resolving conflict

Once you understand that if you are in conflict and accept that your behaviour will be sustaining the behaviour of another person, you then have a choice about how you might change. The ability to manage conflict creatively allows you to handle conflict in a calm, fair, and productive manner, where all parties get their needs heard and understood.

One useful model to use in the ‘heat’ of a conflict situation, is described by Dr Thompson in his book Verbal Judo. He encourages individuals to ‘respond not react’ to situations, through using a structured approach to understand another person and work towards resolution. He recommends you use the following acronym LEAPS.

L Listen to what the person has to say, use active listening skills to understand how the other person is experiencing the situation. This allows the other person to diffuse some of their feelings and ensure you know why they feel the way they do.

E Empathise with what the person has to say, you don’t have to agree but the other person is more likely to be willing to listen to how you see the situation if you are willing to see their perspective.

A Ask questions to obtain more information so you are more aware of the whole situation, and reduce the danger of assuming you understand why this is something so difficult for the other person.

P Paraphrase by putting the facts into your own words, this will demonstrate your listening skills and allow you to check understanding. This then opens up the dialogue to give the other person a chance to give you details and explanations they may not have given you when they were feeling angry and defensive.

S Summarise a course of agreed action, you need to keep the person informed of what you are doing and explain what is within your power to resolve the situation.

There are a number of simple techniques and approaches that can assist in reducing and resolving conflict:

  • Admit to yourself there is conflict; accept that the situation is happening. Denial only means the problem will likely deteriorate further; doing nothing has rarely improved a relationship.
  • Take responsibility for your part in this problem, this isn’t about ‘taking the blame’ it is about being responsible and willing to work at improving the situation.
  • Prepare in advance, consider what you want to say, how you want to say it and what you want from the conversation/meeting.
  • Choose a good time to talk about the conflict, when there are no distractions, pressures or constraints on the conversation.
  • Speak directly to the parties involved, in private on a one to one basis.Agree to and ensure the boundaries of confidentiality; nothing breaks down communication like the loss of trust and respect.
  • Ensure no one is being misquoted or misinterpreted – stick to facts, not opinions, hearsay or gossip.
  • Listen. Give the other party a chance to tell their side of the conflict too, this shows respect and your willingness to accept there may be more than one way of viewing this situation, even if you do not agree with what they are saying.
  • Be specific; state clearly what the problem is and how it affects you.
  • Don't blame the other person for everything or deny you had any part in the relationship breakdown. Be gently honest – this can be a starting point to finding ways to change and solve the difficulties.
  • Own your statements by using “I felt” instead of “you made me feel”. They are your feelings, not theirs.
  • Don't blame or name call, this will only trigger a defence and antagonise the other party, which will make it harder for them to understand you or be willing to listen to you.
  • Attack the problem, not each other.
  • Don’t go into the discussion with a set agenda or fixed solution – you are looking to achieve a ‘win-win situation’ for all parties.
  • Brainstorm for solutions. Consider a variety of ideas to help solve the problem. Don't judge the ideas as right or wrong, or good or bad. Look for options that emphasise the common good. Two or more people cooperating produce lasting solutions more effectively than one person telling another to change.
  • Keep the tone and volume of your voice calm and measured.
  • Discuss if there are one or more options that are agreeable to both parties. Focus on what is needed and not only what is desired. Strive to develop a compromise to reach this goal.
  • Follow through. Agree to check with each other at specific times to make sure the agreement is still working.

Getting Support

The Wellbeing Support Services are available for students at the University of Warwick:

Changing Minds -

Mind Tools -

For staff at the University of Warwick, you amy wish to explore in-house mediation. See for details

A list of websites about managing conflict

The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites

The following references are available from the University Library either in hard copy, CD or ebooks. Most are readily available to buy either in bookshops or over the internet. There are also a limited number of books in the Learning Grid and the Bio-med Grid.

Title: Dealing with Difficult People (Creating Success)

Author: Roy Lilley

Publisher: Kogan Page

Title: Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In

Author: Roger Fisher, William Ury

Publisher: Random House Business Books

Title: Managing Conflict in the Workplace: How to Develop Trust and Understanding and Manage Disagreements

Author: Shay McConnon and Margaret McConnon

Publisher: How to books limited

Title: Verbal Judo; The Gentle Art of Persuasion

Author: Dr George Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins

Publisher: Harper Collins