According to crisis resolution consultant Dr. Dudley Weeks, there are eight essential steps to conflict resolution. He explains these eight steps in his book The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution: Preserving Relationships at Work, at Home, and in the Community . While these steps don’t always guarantee an optimal outcome, they greatly improve the likelihood that problems will be understood and solutions explored. Let’s investigate these steps and discover how they are useful for effectively preventing bullying and managing conflict.
Step 1: Create an effective atmosphere
Creating an effective atmosphere is an important, yet often overlooked, first step in conflict resolution. You can think of an atmosphere as the “frame around the canvas on which we paint how we agree, disagree and build an improved relationship”. When people set ineffective atmospheres they are often unable to develop effective outcomes. Creating an atmosphere for effective conflict resolution includes paying attention to your personal preparation, timing, and location. You also need to consider your initial opening statements. Consider what you will say when you begin your meeting. Try to establish a partnership atmosphere rather than a one-on-one battle.
Step 2: Clarify perceptions
Perceptions are the lenses through which you see yourself, others, your relationships and the situations you encounter. Perceptions have enormous influence over your behavior. Your perceptions are influenced by many things, including your upbringing and education. For effective conflict resolution to occur, you will need to work with the other people involved in the conflict to clarify perceptions of the problem. It is incorrect to think that your assumptions correctly explain what the problem is about.
Step 3: Focus on individual and shared needs
The next step along the pathway to effective conflict resolution is to focus on the needs of everyone involved. Needs may be individual or shared by everyone. Think of needs as the things that you have to have in order to make the relationship work. These are the things that you must have in a relationship in order for the conflict to be solved. In this step, you will concentrate on four specific sets of needs present in every relationship: personal needs, the partner’s needs, the relationship needs, and shared needs.
Step 4: Build shared positive power
Every relationship involves power. Power is made up of the attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors that give people the ability to act or perform effectively. People can use this power positively or negatively. Negative power attempts to take power away from the other party in an attempt to increase your own advantage. Positive power builds up the constructive capabilities of all parties involved in a conflict. When people use positive power, they work to help their relationship become positively powerful, too. This shared positive power is the energy that makes a relationship effective and conflict resolution successful.
Step 5: Deal with the past
Everyone is a product of their past. The past influences everything, including relationships and the conflicts within those relationships. The past does matter, but you cannot allow yourself to be defined by the past or to be trapped in it. To deal with the past in conflict resolution there are three major steps you need to take.
Focus on what we can do now and tomorrow, no matter what has occurred in the past.
Understand the part that past events have played in creating a particular conflict.
Develop and use skills that can help you learn from the past so that the way you deal with conflict will be improved.
Step 6: Generate options
Generating options provides choices from which specific steps to resolve conflicts and improve relationships can be agreed upon. Generating options involves several tasks:
1. Trace the conflict back to a time before it reached its current level of difficulty and ask yourself what options you may have left unexplored before the level of conflict increased.
2. Spend some time envisioning new possibilities.
3. Come prepared with several specific options you have come up with that meet some shared needs.
Remind yourself that the options you identify on your own are only starting points for the process of generating options you and your partner will do together.
Step 7: Develop “do-ables”
Every journey beings with a single step. The next step in the conflict resolution process is to develop “do-ables”. Do-ables are concrete actions which take a step towards resolving a conflict. A do-able should include the following:
- It stands a good chance of being accomplished.
- It does not favor one party over the other.
- It requires participation of all parties.
- It meets one or more shared and individual needs.
- It uses the positive power of the conflict partners.
- It creates a stepping stone to improve the relationship.
Do-ables are critical steps used to build trust while working together. They are built on individual and shared needs. They form a pathway to capabilities previously thought impossible and play a major role in resolving conflicts.
Step 8: Make mutual-benefit agreements
The final step in the conflict resolution process is to make mutually-benefit agreements. These conflict resolution agreements must be realistic and effective enough to survive the challenges of the future. They must be built on clear perceptions of the conflict, who is involved in the conflict, and the specific steps each partner has agreed to take to improve the relationship. Mutual-benefit agreements must also be built on individual and shared needs. Mutual-benefit agreements resolve problems and benefit all parties in the conflict.