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Phoenix Forward

Got conflict? 5 techniques for resolution

Collegues having a discussion

With a little knowledge, patience and initiative, conflict can become a teaching tool instead of a headache.

“Conflict does not necessarily have to be negative,” says Shelley Zajic, vice president of talent management for Apollo Education Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix. “Conflict can be challenging, but these challenges also provide a lot of opportunity for growth, whether at a personal or professional level.”

Here are five tips on how to recognize and resolve conflicts wherever they occur.

  1. Identify the type of conflict.
    “There are multiple types of conflict,” says Marilynn Irvine, PhD, MFT, who has been a therapist for 30 years and is also lead faculty area chair for the University of Phoenix Master of Science in Counseling at the Sacramento Valley Campus. “There are conflicts of need, such as a desire for possession, acquisition or control. There are personality conflicts, communication breakdowns. Sometimes people turn on each other during times of stress and uncertainty with intolerance, irritability and things like blame games.” Each type of conflict requires different tools and strategies for resolution.

  2. Learn to separate personality from performance.
    "People have to be allowed to be who they are; what they do is often something else entirely,” says Irvine. “Aim to separate personality differences from how people behave.” Irvine recommends that workplaces do personality inventories such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help colleagues identify and appreciate diverse personality types.

  3. Focus only on things that you can control.
    “One of the things I see frequently in my work as a counselor are people who are paralyzed by things they cannot control — fear about the economy, death of a loved one, worry about possible job loss, etc.,” says Irvine. “As counselors and human services professionals, we try to teach our clients to focus only on things that they can control — like looking for a new job, staying positive and taking active steps to get the support they need.

  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    Since so many types of conflict are rooted in communication breakdowns, learning how to improve communication can go a long way towards resolving those conflicts. “Human services professionals help people work through their own conflict challenges, and that includes good communication skills,” says Amy Klink, MBA/HRM, director of talent acquisition and operations for Apollo Education Group. “We recommend going directly to the source, preferably in person, to address conflict and misunderstandings whenever and wherever possible.”

  5. Get help.
    Counselors and human services professionals are trained to help people mediate and resolve conflict, and they can be the saving grace when you are at a loss on how to resolve conflict in your personal or professional life. And asking for professional help when it is appropriate shows you’re smart enough to recognize a complicated situation that requires outside expertise to resolve.

    “All therapists are dealing with various types of conflict all the time,” says Irvine. “We are here to teach people how to relate to one another, and themselves, more effectively. We’re the ‘people people,’ and we are here to serve.”


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