Perspective on Managing Conflict

Conflict is a normal part of everyday life. It’s understandable that during this stressful time of greater isolation, changes in our daily routine, as well as worries regarding the pandemic, we may experience increased feelings of tension and strain. Heightened stress can aggravate existing conflicts or create new ones. While conflict is often viewed as negative and something to avoid, the fact is that conflict can often be effectively addressed. Finding ways to more positively work through conflict can support our own mental health, self-confidence, and personal well-being.

It may be worthwhile to think about managing conflict in 3 stages:

1) Prepare, 2) Understand, and 3) Resolve. Within each stage there are steps to further move toward resolving conflict. Below are descriptions of each stage and some “Questions to consider” as you work through the stages. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about a current or past conflict to use as a learning example. Notice what you’ve done well in working through the conflict and where you might make improvements. It’s a process and being aware of both strengths and challenges can be informative and expand personal growth.

PREPARE: Resolving conflict begins with self-awareness, noticing those things that push your buttons. It’s also an opportunity to engage in self-care (e.g., adequate rest, exercise) so you can be at your best and more prepared to work through conflict. Take some time to identify your needs in the conflict (e.g., what is this conflict about? and, what do I need to feel respected in this relationship?) and what you hope will happen as a result of working though the conflict. Consider a good time and place for the discussion and a couple of ground-rules for a respectful conversation (e.g. we agree to talk without interrupting each other, and to confront the issues but not verbally attack each other).

  Questions to consider:

  • What’s one thing I can do to take care of myself so that I am at my best to work through the conflict?
  • What do I hope will happen as a result of this conversation?

UNDERSTAND: Good communication is a large part of managing conflict. Being able to listen to understand the other’s concern is an important step in understanding conflict and eventually resolving it. Taking a listening stance into the conversation means paying attention to both verbal (e.g. restating what the other person says) and non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expression). Asserting your needs clearly and specifically go hand in hand with listening. Use “I-Messages” and build from what you have heard continuing to listen well.

Questions to consider:

  • How might I prepare myself to listen to the other person, even if I don’t agree?
  • What are one or two current concerns that are important to convey to the other person? (Note: stay with current concerns and do not bring up the past)

RESOLVE: Genuine efforts to both listen and honestly convey needs often results in a pathway to resolving conflict. Focus on a couple of current concerns and approach problem solving with flexibility. Practice brainstorming or generating several options for resolving a problem, while initially deferring judgment. Proactively consider how you might want to address future problems should they arise. Acknowledge efforts…this can be hard work, yet also gratifying!

Questions to consider:

  • What can I do to remain patient and open as we work through issues?
  •  How can we identify a solution that might work for both/all of us?

Effectively addressing conflict does not occur automatically. It involves learning specific skills and taking opportunities to practice. Managing conflict includes learning to prepare to work through the conflict, readiness to understand the concerns of those involved through good listening and respectfully stating needs, and making efforts to resolve concerns with solutions that may meet the needs of all involved.


Lisa Webne-Behrman, PhD, C. Psych

Lisa Webne-Behrman, PhD, C. Psych, is a Psychologist with The Counselling Group. She works with individuals and groups and is licensed in the areas of Clinical, Health, and Organizational Psychology.

The Counselling Group offers a variety of experienced therapists who can support positive changes and growth in your life. For more information, please visit the or call 613-722-2225 x352 to speak with an intake worker today. We are offering appointments remotely at this time and are available to speak with you for new requests.