Local Peacemaking

Chapter 10

A Guide to Dealing with Conflict in the Community

(Mt Nebo Residents’ Association)


Some 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.

Be safe
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.

Good process
It usually wise to agree on some process for discussing the issues.
In some cases it is helpful to:
Focusing on interests
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.

Creative solutions
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; and problem 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 parties:

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.

Mediator Database

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.)

Managing Depression

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 depression.


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 emotionally reconciled.

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 the conflict.

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 conflict.

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
Indigo House.

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Last modified: 14 November 2009