A Guide to Dealing with Conflict in the Community
(Mt Nebo Residents’ Association)
Useful Rules for Managing Disputes
It's important to show respect for one another through what we say and
how we say it - our tone of voice, body language and facial expressions.
Don't put your personal safety at risk. Where there is anger and
possible violence, then avoidance or some other strategy may need to be
used until the situation cools.
Misunderstanding can be minimized through 'active listening’
summarizing back to the other party what you understand they are saying
about the issues, facts or their feelings.
Active listening helps build your understanding of the other person,
their interests and values. This gives a chance to make 'face
saving' proposals which minimizes damage to people's esteem or egos.
It usually wise to agree on some process for discussing the issues.
In some cases it is helpful to:
- Deal with one issue at a time. Maybe break each issue into
- Start with an issue you think can best be easily resolved.
Focusing on interests
- Put the problem in perspective by thinking about the person
you're disputing with and list their good points.
- Write down exactly and precisely what is the problem or what you
find annoying about the person.
- List specific ways you would like the person to change their
- List ways you think the person would want you to change your
Behind opposing positions are usually shared interests. Concentrate on
your and the other party's interests, not on defending your
position. Lay your cards on the table and openly discuss your
interests and try to find out the other party's interests. If you
can, state what you need from the outcome.
Be constructive and open to new ways of cooperating when responding to
others. Being uncompromising usually causes the other side to use the
same tactic and hostility and obstruction can arise.
Dealing with emotions
If you can, deal with emotions first. Often it's necessary to
express our emotions before we can clearly discuss the issues.
It can also be very important for each party to hear how the conflict
has affected the other. We can rarely negotiate constructively until we
listen to and acknowledge the feelings of the other party. This reduces
tension and clears the way for clear consideration of the matter.
Be creative in finding solutions. You may want to brainstorm
together, or with others, to develop mutually satisfying options.
There are different styles of managing conflict, which can be used
flexibly depending on the situation. For example: compromising some of
your needs; accommodating the needs of others; avoiding the conflict;
being openly and respectfully competitive to protect your interests;
solving. Problem solving means identifying and acknowledging each
person's needs and taking action to meet the needs of all, and later
evaluating to see if this has occurred.
It's best to seek a 'win-win' situation where all sides end up getting
what they want. For this you need to focus efforts on the end
result rather than your own favoured alternative. Win-win requires all
- wanting a solution, which is acceptable, to each party and
achieves most or all of each party’s goals;
- being prepared to use an orderly process;
- being prepared to be open and honest about their feelings and the
SOURCE: Adapted partly from 'Understanding Conflict', a chapter in Working Together for Land Care
(1990) by S Chamala and P D Mortiss, Australian Academic Press.
Where community members cannot
resolve conflict between themselves, mediators may be very useful. You
can often communicate better through a mutual trusted friend or get
outside help through counselors or dispute resolution agencies. The Mt
Nebo Residents’ Association will establish a database of external
professional mediators and post it on this site.
(The database will include possible counsellors who have been
recommended however we cannot guarantee their expertise. You should
also ask about what fees
will be charged before engaging any counsellor.)
A useful site that deals with
depression is http://www.depressionservices.org.au/.
It contains lots of useful information and also a Bulletin Board which
offers great support for people and support persons going through
Relationship Conflict: One issue at a time
When conflict breaks out in your relationship, don't be tempted, in
your anger, to dredge up everything you have ever been upset about.
Conflict is difficult enough without multiple issues or hurts
compounding the discussion.
The urge to bring up past hurts or issues is usually because we feel
uncomfortable being in the hot seat. It's a defensive reaction to say
"Yeah, well, you do that too you know!" or "How come it's alright for
you to..." The other reason you might get into dragging up old issues
is because you felt angry or hurt and ignored it at the time - and then
you want to bring it up 2 weeks later when your partner is upset with
you about some other issue!
If you continually feel like dredging up issues, this is a good
indicator that they have not been fully resolved. When an issue is
resolved, most people feel settled, 'over it', peaceful, complete.
Resolved issues float away like clouds, not forgotten necessarily, but
If you are feeling unresolved on some issues, make note of them, and
try to determine why you still feel unsettled. Perhaps you did not feel
heard by your partner. Or you did not feel you got a sincere apology.
Maybe you did not stand your ground, allowing your partner to think
things were okay, when they were not. Perhaps you were not sure how to
ask for what you want. Perhaps you did not own up to 'your stuff' in
Also write down how things would look and feel when they are truly
resolved (i.e., my partner would not act that way anymore, my partner
would acknowledge my hurt, I would acknowledge this thing is important
to me, etc).
When this is done, set aside some time with your partner to talk them
through, rather than bringing them up in the middle of a separate
Tip: If you notice you or your partner getting into multiple issues,
stop it by saying something like, "Hang on, we seem to be getting into
a few different things here... I want to us to talk about everything
that's important but let's just take it one at a time. The first thing
you were saying was..."
If an issue seems impossible to resolve, think about speaking to an
objective and clear minded friend, family member or a professional
counsellor. Or, if you identify as a person who tends to bury your
feelings rather than address them, you might find it beneficial to work
on that with a counsellor.
Michelle McClintock, Psychologist
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Last modified: 14 November 2009