Building Resiliency: Lessons from the Strong Resiliency program – Part 5

Posted on 05/07/11 by erynwicker

From a series I wrote for The Chilliwack Progress some time ago…

Week 5 of the Strong Resiliency Groups: Solving People Problems

Wow, it’s the last Strong Readers lesson today. You all made it through – not as impressive as my kids and teens who have to sit through twelve weeks of this but I’m impressed none the less. So let’s see, where were we at? Empathetic? Check. Managing Anger? Check. Clearer thinking by identifying our thought errors? Check. Thinking positively? Check, check. So what’s left?

Today’s topic, our last lesson from the Strong Resiliency groups’ curriculum, is about how to solve conflicts with other people. Now I know none of my readers have any trouble with this but chances are you may encounter individuals who haven’t been enlightened by these columns, and you might need some strategies for those situations.

Conflict resolution, also known as social problem solving, is a crucial skill and tool to have in our repertoire of how to deal with what life throws us. But what is it actually?

Conflict/Problem: the disagreement that occurs between individuals or groups that reflects a difference of opinions, goals, desires, abilities, or a completely opposing point of view.


                      Resolution: the finding and achieving of a solution.


                      Resolve: to fix, mend, or solve.


Problem Solving/Conflict Resolution: a way of discussing a topic in a helpful and constructive manner where an agreement is reached in the best way for the most people.

Conflict can be everywhere you turn – at the parking lot when someone takes your spot, to the concert where someone is in your seat, to the dinner table where you just can’t get your kids to eat creamed corn. (Sorry Mom). You might even say that conflict is inherent in human behaviour, but it’s not necessarily something bad or to be avoided at all costs.  Truth be known, conflicts can be viewed as an opportunity to learn a lesson or gather new information. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t always have to end with a winner and a loser – there can be some level of satisfaction on both ends.

There are even alternatives to conflict that can be (and need to be) considered:

Compromise: where one or both parties agree to some level of sacrifice in order to prevent continued conflict.

Agreement: where one party decides the other party’s point of view is relevant and they can agree to share the same point of view.

Agree to Disagree: where both parties feel that there is no way to agree on the topic and will decide that it’s a topic they will just have differing perspectives on (and that’s okay).

Friendly rivalry/Leave it to chance: sometimes, if the conflict is over something tangible, the two parties can agree to have a competition over the object or by flipping a coin.

Seek guidance from a responsible outside party: sometimes an outside, neutral person has to be called in to help with decision.

Making a deal: at times an agreement can be reached by making a deal. For example: If I give you this, can we switch turns.

By learning to view conflict in a different light it’s easier to see the alternatives listed above or even that there are steps you can follow to work on resolving conflicts. It’s true that not every problem will be resolved, but wouldn’t it be nice to even reach a place of peaceful and respectful disagreement. Conflict resolution is just that – a process of solving our problems or disagreements one step at a time.

                        First, it helps to Identify the Problem:

–       have each side state their wants and feelings

–       use empathy and active listening

–       look for cues from their body language

–       describe in non-threatening ways what you want using “I” statements

–       summarize both people’s wants and feelings

Second, you’ll need to Brainstorm Solutions:

–       each person should generate at least two solutions

–       don’t forget to consider the 6 alternatives listed above

Third, you must Choose a Solution:

–       Does it work for all involved?

–       Is it a win-win situation?

–       Is someone willing to compromise?

–       If no agreement can be reached, try going back to the ‘brainstorming solutions’ step.

Fourth, Make an Agreement:

–       jointly accept the solution and formalize it somehow (contract, verbal agreement, handshake, etc)

At times conflict can seem very confusing and impossible to solve, which makes it hard to even think about the problem without feeling angry or hurt, let alone try (what seems like the insurmountable task) of solving it. Increasingly frustrating is when it’s difficult to figure out what the conflict is exactly – as if resolving it isn’t complicated enough, add to that the concern of not being able to wrap your head around what the argument is actually about. And, the possibility exists that even with trying your very best a solution may not be found. Or, that things become even messier because the person you are in conflict with has never heard of these ‘so-called problem-solving steps’ you keep mentioning. Sometimes, you just have to smile, and politely say: “You know what, we’re not getting anywhere, so let’s talk about this another time.” Of course, there are also those situations in which I may encourage you not to problem-solve. For example, in a dark alley with a dangerous individual is not always the time to ask him how he feels and what alternatives he can come up with.

So as we look at the conclusion of the Strong Readers of the Chilliwack Progress group my hope is that we have all increased our resiliency, our ‘bounce-back power’, even if only a little bit. We may not have accomplished every Big Idea that the groups are based upon (which I outlined the first week), but I would suspect that we have all learned something – about ourselves, about other people, about society as a whole. And if we can take that learning with us, off these pages and into our lives, our jobs, our families, then we are the better for it.