Columns

July 11, 2024

Communication as an art of conflict resolution, by Ruth Oji 

Communication as an art of conflict resolution, by Ruth Oji 

CONFLICT is an inevitable aspect of human interaction that arises in various contexts such as social gatherings, professional settings, personal relationships, and community relationships. Oftentimes, they stem from differences in values, perspectives, disagreements, interests, and matters of importance; however, while conflicts are inevitable, their resolution is not. Central to conflict resolution is effective communication. This article will approach communication as an art that transforms the destructive force of conflict into an opportunity for growth and strengthened relationships.

Before proposing any possible solution, the nature and origin of a conflict must be understood. Interpersonal conflict is a source of conflict emanating due to personal differences. Intrapersonal conflict is an activity within an individual, leading to internal struggles or dilemmas. Intragroup conflicts often result from competitions or power dynamics within a group. Intergroup conflict is visible among different groups or organisations with competition, and they escalate very quickly. Lastly, structural conflicts could arise from organisational or societal structures due to inequality, resource distributions, or systemic setbacks. You must understand the source of a conflict to determine the gravity of the issues at hand or the proposed solutions. 

Conflict stages are often vital in identifying the appropriate interventions that are best applicable to the scenario at hand. We will view conflicts from their chronological stages. There is always a latent stage for every conflict: this is the stage where there is a potential for conflict, but no actions have been implemented regarding it. The perceived stage follows the latent stage; the miscommunication or misunderstanding becomes visibly recognised by the parties involved. The felt stage is a significant stage of conflict as it determines what actions are taken: it is the emotional involvement of the conflicting parties, making resolution difficult and leading to anxiety, intensity, stress, and frustration. The manifest stage actualises the felt stage through behaviour, actions, and communication such as confrontation and open disputes. The aftermath stage presents the outcome of agreement, management, changes, or compromises.

Active listening and empathy are effective communication strategies that help you foster positive relationships and help to navigate disputes. In conflicts, active listening involves concentrating, understanding, reflecting, clarifying, responding, and remembering what the other party is saying. Empathy will involve going beyond paying attention to words and showing a deep understanding of emotional awareness, validation, and perspectives on what the other party has expressed and experienced. During conflicts, focus, reflect, and clarify your thoughts while recognising the feelings and viewpoints of the other person through your words.

Uphold assertive communication for conflict resolution. Express your needs, desires, and boundaries clearly and confidently; do this while acknowledging them with an ‘I’ statement and not accusatory to others. Let your opinions and feelings be explicitly stated with respect and confidence; do not simply do this for yourself – apply these same feelings and concerns in the way you treat others. Implement assertive communication style without being passive or aggressive. 

Another effective communication strategy for resolution is common ground and compromises. When communicating with the other party, focus on identifying communication goals or values and shift the conflicting positions to those mutual interests. Encourage a collaborative approach to brainstorming solutions and be willing to make concessions where applicable. Effective communication will help you balance the assertiveness and empathy needed to make both parties feel respected and heard. 

In cases where you are not directly affiliated with the issue of conflict, effective communication can help you in conflict resolution as a mediator. As a mediator, you are primarily responsible for dialogue and negotiation to aid resolution, and you must understand your significant role. You must remain neutral in speech and action to ensure all parties feel respected and heard. In guiding each conversation, you must facilitate the process by helping each party articulate their concerns and needs in open communication. You must also assist parties in identifying issues, finding solutions, and proposing compromises needed to clarify misunderstandings or improve negotiations. Hold your primary role of neutrality, facilitation, and problem-solving, given your position as a communicative mediator. 

Your mediation process as a communicator must be systematic to effect conflict resolution; in achieving the intended results, your preparations must set ground rules, briefly state the issues, and show confidentiality. Create a statement for the problem by allowing both parties to state their perspectives and concerns; ask questions to clarify the issues of conflict; gather information of interests to problem evaluations; generate possible solutions and encourage openness and feasibility of them; negotiate and compromise by allowing conflicting parties to reach mutual agreement. Once agreement is reached, a written draft that outlines terms and conditions and provides closure should be reviewed and signed. Follow these steps for a structured, collaborative, and effective communication necessary for conflict resolution. 

A practical example is the scenario of two employees in a marketing team who constantly disagree on strategies, leading to an unconducive environment. This intragroup conflict can be solved with an arranged mediator from the HR department addressing their concerns. 

Through active listening, empathy, and guided discussions, the mediator identifies a common interest in increasing company productivity. A hybrid strategy is then proposed on and off-site, affecting both approaches and leading to a more innovative marketing campaign.

In a border dispute involving neighbouring countries, both sides focused on achieving their demands and maintaining their rigid positions in an initial proposed negotiation; this led to military exploits, casualties, economic resources, and a breakdown in diplomatic relationships. The lesson of systematic communicative resolution, techniques, and strategies is evidently non-existent. This scenario is likened to the displacement of effective communication in conflict resolution and its immense effects.

Ultimately, approaching conflict resolution with a focused mindset of clarification, mutual respect, and understanding can transform disagreements into opportunities for growth. Whether navigating structural, intergroup, personal, or community disputes, applying these knowledge and strategies will lead to a productive and harmonious environment. Embrace the art of communication as a tool for solving conflicts at each stage of interest that you come across.

*Would you like to get a group/one-on-one customised training on speaking/writing? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] for training solutions.

*Dr Oji is a Senior Lecturer of English at the Institute of Humanities, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos