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November 7, 2020 | Written by Brad Russell

Interpersonal Wellness: The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution for Overall Well-Being

Happy woman enjoying freedom with open hands on seaInterpersonal wellness refers to the ability to have healthy relationships with oneself and others.

As individuals around the world adjust to new social norms, they may also encounter the need to redefine personal relationships with others.

For example, some individuals now spend less time in the traditional workforce, and those spending more time at home might now notice problems that previously existed only under the surface. Although most interpersonal relationships eventually run into problems, outside challenges can exacerbate any tense situation.

Fortunately, there are scientifically backed tips in negotiation and mediation that can support the success of your personal interactions. The following guide to conflict resolution can provide the skills needed to deescalate problems and maintain healthier relationships.


Define the Problem

The first step in any interpersonal conflict resolution is to define the problem. This allows individuals to address the specific issue at hand and express their grievances productively (instead of fighting). Defining the problem also helps you gather the important data needed to find a long-term solution to a conflict.

To perform this step, sit down and allow each side of a conflict to define the problem within a set time limit. This means giving each side within an equal time frame (usually around three to five minutes each) to explain the issue. If necessary, you can also use a timer to allot each person the correct amount of time.


Active Listening

While each side speaks, it is also important to use active listening. This refers to giving a person your undivided attention, maintaining good eye contact, and maintaining appropriate silence during the person’s allotted time period. Using a timer ensures that every person engages in active listening for the same amount of time.

Conflict resolutionIf possible, consider choosing an impartial person as a mediator. The role of the mediator is to help facilitate active listening by clearly repeating and summarising the statements of each person.

This allows both parties to demonstrate empathy and take a non-judgmental view of both opinions before devising a solution. The mediator can also help both parties stay focused on the issue at hand, thereby helping to solve one problem at a time.

While defining the problem and engaging in active listening, it is important to remain mindful of what psychologists call the three Rs:

  • Respect – Each side must make a commitment to respecting the other party by listening to what the other person has to say within the allotted time period. These means listening without interruption (even if there is strong disagreement with the other party’s point of view). In return, the other party must show respect when it is another person’s turn to speak.
  • Rights – Discussions move forward when each person respects the basic human rights of the other party. This means no name-calling or attempts to control the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Responsibility – Each person has a responsibility to sit down to address the conflict until both parties can resolve it. A great way to accept responsibility to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying “You don’t respect the time I reserve for morning workouts,” try saying “I think it is best that each person in the family get 30 minutes of uninterrupted time for exercise.”


Implement the WAC Approach to Determine What Each Side Needs

Once you define the problem, it is important to determine what each side needs. According to the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University (CNCR), the WAC approach is one of the simplest and most effective ways to identify the needs of each person in a disagreement. The steps of this approach include the following:

  • What – Clearly state the source of the problem and what bothers you.
  • Ask – Each person in the conflict can request the one thing needed to resolve the issue. It must be tangible and specific. For example, “I need space” can sound too vague to create actionable solutions. However, the statement “I need 30 minutes after dinner for an evening walk” gives each party a specific request with which to negotiate.
  • Check-In – There are two types of check-ins for conflict resolution. First, it is important to check in with the other party after you make your specific request. If the request is specific enough, it should be easy to determine if the other person finds it reasonable. How does the other person feel about your request? Is the other person willing to comply? Does he or she have another idea for solving the problem?

It is helpful to write down each person’s WAC on a notepad or whiteboard to ensure that every person has equal opportunity to express their needs.


Use Your Data to Establish a Common Goal for Each Party Involved

Establish a common goalAfter establishing the needs of each side of a conflict, you can use your data to take the first step toward a common goal. This is where the previous step of recording WACs comes in handy.

Have each party (or the mediator) look down the list of WACs and notice any commonalities between each list of needs. These similarities represent points of convergence, or the intersection at which both sides of the conflict can compromise. Once you select the points of convergence, ask each person to state an ideal outcome in one sentence. Write each sentence down.


Brainstorm How to Reach This Goal

The points of similarity in each of your ideal outcomes represents the group’s common goal. This is a shared purpose that requires individuals to work as a team to achieve as much of the ideal outcome as possible. According to research, flexibility in reaching a similar goal increases the likelihood that the end-result resembles each person’s ideal outcome.


Develop an Agreement

Create an agreement based on the common goal in the previous step. Most people find it helpful to write the agreement down. While it does not have to be a formal contract, it should consist of at least two sentences that states the compromise along with a promise to meet again if the same issue arises in the future.


Embrace Long-Term Strategies for Remaining Alert and Calm

Happy office workersWhile conflict-resolution meetings can help resolve immediate issues, it is also important to establish long-term strategies for preventing interpersonal fighting.

These include quick ways for relieving stress, manage emotions, or improve non-verbal communication skills. Make a conscious effort to improve these skills on your own or reach out to Australia-based resources for additional support. Some of the most popular include the following:

  • Headspace – This free program focuses heavily on youth resources and mental health.
  • Beyond Blue – This is a free well-being service for people of all ages.
  • LifeLine – Known as a “listening” service, this program provides support via phone or chat.
  • MyCompass – This is a self-help tool that provides resources on managing stress and emotions.
  • Moodgym – Free for Australians, this online tool provides self-help strategies for improving your overall well-being.


The Bottom Line

Most interpersonal relationships eventually encounter a bump in the road. Although some differences in opinion may feel inevitable, using research-backed steps in conflict resolution can help individuals identify a common goal. Committing to this strategy increases the likelihood of an ideal outcome and healthier interactions with others.


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