According to Barrosse (2007, p.210) there are three main ways to deal with conflict: “Try to change the other party, try to alter the conflict conditions, [or changing] your own communication and/or perceptions.” Each of these methods is employed by the average person when faced with conflict; however they are not all equally successful when it comes to actually moderating a difference of opinion. When it comes to taking control of uncomfortable situations, one is certainly better off avoiding the first method.
Trying to change the person you are dealing with so that they see your point of view is “a natural response [and is] usually highly unsuccessful” (Barrosse, 2007, p.210). We are all inclined to be stubborn about our own situation, and even though a compromise would generally calm the other party and afford peace, we as humans are quite unwilling to let our side of the story slip past unnoticed.
The fact is, unless we get over this natural tendency to advocate our own viewpoint, there is no such thing as effective conflict moderation. When people are forced to see the other side of the argument through authoritative measures, “a subterranean resentment and desire to retaliate may well emerge” (ibid).
“It is no accident that Aristotle wrote about the ‘Golden Mean’ and Buddha preached about the ‘Middle Way’” (Barrosse, 2007, p.214). These great philosophers understood that without compromise, there is no moving forward; without finding a middle ground between differing parties we will all remain isolated and controlled by our own dogged opinions. When we employ the second method of conflict moderation - trying to change the conditions of the disagreement - we are attempting neither to find a middle ground nor to ‘win’ the dispute. Changing the situation is merely a way of trying to disengage from the conflict, and quickly.
This can work on a superficial level, in that the situation is handled speedily, but it may backfire and leave the other party resenting you for changing the rules. This type of behaviour can be classified as avoidance, according to Barrosse, and “when you engage the other [party] in productive conversation, you will find that (1) your behaviour is being misinterpreted by the other and (2) your perception of the other is skewed” (2007, p.216). Changing the circumstances surrounding a conflict is really not a proactive form of moderation, since by engaging in clear conversation you can take control of the dispute and work towards a solution.
The final resolution method – changing your own communication or perceptions – is truly the most successful tactic you can use. The fact is that “conflict parties may know that they want to engage but not know how to start” (Barrosse, 2007, p.217). Taking charge in these situations requires understanding and patience, which may be difficult for many people, but it is nevertheless necessary for successful conflict resolution. Many people struggle with restraint: this “includes the difficult task of holding back one’s desire to act on vengeful feelings” (Barrosse, 2007, p.221). In practise there is no successful way to incorporate such feelings into conflict moderation.
It is important to remain focused on the issue at hand and lay out clear objectives for all parties involved. This way, no one is distracted or perhaps made more upset at the introduction of new conflict topics and extraneous information. Remain calm, concentrate and listen to the opinions of all parties while trying to find a common solution.
“Low productivity occurs when interpersonal conflicts are not identified or openly expressed to the other party” (Barrosse, 2007, p.214). Therefore it is best practise to approach conflict moderation from the perspective that teamwork prevails. Finding a compromise is the most sound solution.
Barrosse, E. (Ed). (2007). Interpersonal Conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.