Conflict Resolution Guidelines

The following information is provided by Dr. Judy Pearson ( who appeared on my internet radio program on 1/25/11 (

The following guidelines apply to close relationships between friends, family members, and couples who want to preserve the quality of their relationships. The purpose of discussing a conflict is NOT to make each other feel bad.  The purpose is to REACH AGREEMENT ON A SOLUTION.  Here are some general guidelines that may help.  It is best if both parties to the conflict are aware of these guidelines and use them as “ground rules” for resolving conflicts. [1]

Bringing Up the Problem
Choose a time when the other person is available to listen to you.
Tell the other person that you need to talk about something that is troubling to you.
Talk about the problem as objectively as possible.  Be specific about the other person’s action that is troubling to you.
Use “I” statements to describe how you feel about the person’s behavior.  You might also want to give the other person information about how their behavior is affecting you in some way, or how you are interpreting that behavior.
If you aren’t sure of about the other person’s intentions or if you aren’t sure how to interpret the other person’s behavior, admit it and ask questions for clarification.

What NOT To Do
Do not use a critical, condescending, sarcastic, or accusing tone of voice.

Do not accuse or blame.

Do not resort to name calling, judgmental, sarcastic, derogatory language.

Do not “mind-read” the other person

Avoid generalities such as “you always” or “you never.”

Do not ask the “WHY” question –“Why did you do that?”  Instead, ask “What, Where, When, Who, and How” questions.

Avoid unfavorable comparisons.

Don’t jump to conclusions—ask for information.

Don’t change the subject.  Deal with one problem at a time.

Do not pursue the discussion when the other person isn’t up to it.

Do not leave the room or refuse to discuss the matter. If your feelings are so overwhelming that you cannot continue, postpone the discussion for another time and make a agreement with the other person as to when the discussion will be resumed.

What to Do
When Someone Brings up a Problem to You, Listen and Reflect

Be quiet while the other person is speaking.  Listen to understand what he or she is saying.  This is not the time to mentally formulate your defense.
Make eye contact and show interest. Pay attention to the other person.
Summarize what the other person is saying and check to make sure you have understood accurately what is troubling the other person. Ask questions for clarification about anything you don’t understand.
Follow the “What NOT To Do” Guidelines, above.
Offer any reassurances or explanations that might ease the other’s concerns.
Offer “I” statements to describe your feelings and perceptions about the situation.
If you aren’t sure of about the other person’s intentions or if you aren’t sure how to interpret the other person’s concern, admit it and ask questions for clarification.

Explore Solutions and Reach an Agreement
The question on the table is “How can we solve this problem in a way that both of us are satisfied, and we preserve the quality of our relationship?”
Tell each other what you want the other to do and what you are willing to do to solve the problem.  If the wants conflict, explore and negotiate possible solutions.
Check out how the solutions meet the needs of each person involved.  Bring up any difficulties with any solution. Continue to communicate in “I” statements about how you feel and what you think of each possible solution.
Reach an agreement on the best solution.  Get the agreement in writing, if it will help you to remember it.
Discuss action items that are required to implement the solution.  These action items could include WHO will do it, HOW to do it, WHEN, WHERE, or HOW OFTEN it will be accomplished.
Appreciate one another for reaching the agreement and acknowledge to one another the difficulties of resolving the conflict.

Carry Out the Agreement. If one or both parties do not carry out the agreement, return to Bringing Up the Problem, above, and start over again.

[1] Primary source: Bolstad R. and Hamblett, M, (1997) Transforming Communication, Addison Wesley Longman. Auckland, New Zealand.