It’s as inevitable as the sunrise and taxes. And it will happen regardless of the relationship and how close you feel to the other person. At some time or another, you’re going to find yourself in an argument.

“We all experience conflict at one time or another,” says Bonnie Wichtner-Zoia, Michigan State University Extension. “And when we do, it’s not necessary for both parties to agree for a resolution to be attained. But each person does need to know that their position is truly understood by the other party,” she says.

When conflict arises, the first step toward a mutual resolution is to identify these five items:

  • Facts – State only the information you know to be true, not your feelings, recognizing that your interpretation of the facts may not be correct.
  • Impact – Describe how the situation is affecting you. Avoid criticisms.
  • Desired outcome – Explain what you would like to see happen.
  • Question – Ask how the other person sees the situation, then really listen to their response.
  • Paraphrase, probe and reframe – Respond in your own words what you think they said and ask if you understand their perspective correctly.

Let’s make a deal

That process essentially involves negotiation. “The very thought of negotiating sounds intimidating, yet we are all experienced negotiators,” says Gregorio Billikopf, University of California Extension farm labor management specialist. “Anytime we come to an agreement on anything, we are negotiating. Some of it we may do somewhat subconsciously, such as taking turns merging into traffic or deciding who says hello first. Determining where to go out for dinner with your spouse, or asking your daughter for help in training a colt also involves negotiation,” he says. The greater the importance of the outcome, the more stressful or emotional the negotiation can be.

A typical approach is to either yield or compete. “We are most likely to yield if we feel there is little chance in winning, or if the outcome is more important to the other person than to us,” Billikopf says. “Yielding is not only noble, but often the best decision; but not always. If saying yes today means living with frustration or resentment tomorrow, yielding is not a virtue.”

Competing, like yielding, means one person gets his way. “Or at least it seems so at first. In the long run, both parties often end up losing. It does little good, for instance, to get a wonderful contract for your new barn if the contractor is not able to complete the project and goes out of business,” he says.

 Competition tends to focus too much on a particular episode rather than on long term viability. Also, the focus is more on the present goal than on the relationship. “I know a retired manager who brags that his subordinates soon learned he was not always right – but always the boss. Although this manager may have obtained worker compliance from his winning tactics, I doubt he got much in terms of employee commitment. Losers often hold grudges and find ways of getting even.”

Another Perspective: Employee Improvement Starts At The Top

Compromise is an alternative to either competing or yielding. Some types of compromises involve an arrangement somewhere between two positions; others may mean alternating the beneficiary. An instance of the latter may involve alternating who gets first crack at using the computer. Greater trust and maturity is often required by this second type of compromise.

“On the plus side, compromise takes a measure of goodwill and little creativity. On the minus side, compromise often involves lazy communication or problem solving. You may have heard the classic tale of two sisters who argued over who would get an orange. They compromised and split it in half. One sister ate her half and threw away the peel; the other, who was involved in a cooking project, grated the peel of her half and threw away the rest of the orange,” he says.