A Closer Look at Resolving Conflict

Susyn Reeve, M.Ed.
Organization & Personal Development Consultant, Organization Development & Learning, Icahn School of Medicine

What is conflict?

  • A difference of opinion that has an emotional charge
  • Conflict has both a task component (problem solving strategy) and a personal/relationship component

What can you do when faced with a conflict?

  • Avoid it
  • Go around it, complain, make it worse
  • Go through it, uncomfortable as it may be, and learn from the process
  1. Recognize that you are in conflict — are you experiencing anger-in (self-blame, guilt, shame) or anger-out (blame, labeling, making demands)
  2. Manage yourself — get more focused and calm by various stress management techniques (exercise, writing in a journal, venting with a friend/colleague)
  3. Prepare to communicate — use the DESC model (see below) to create a script and practice to build confidence/clarify what you want to say, then put the script away and trust yourself

The DESC model — 5 steps for resolving conflict

  1. Identify the specific task goal (what do you want to accomplish?) and relationship goal (as a result of the conversation)
  2. Describe the situation — use concrete terms; include specific time/place/frequency of behavior; focus on specific behavior rather than personality of the person
  3. Express your feelings relative to the conflicnt calmly and in a constructive manner
  4. Specify what you want (i.e. task goal) — explicit, observable behavior change to be performed or discontinued and behavior you are willing to change
  5. Consequences — identify both positive and negative consequences if the goal is/is not achieved

In addition, imagine what you think the other person will say (e.g. detours) and your reply (e.g. how you will handle the detour and continue your goal for the conversation).

Sample communication scripts:

  • Case #1 — PI want post-doc/student to have completed lab documentation ready for weekly lab meetings
  • Case #2 — To discuss recent perceived changes in a relationship
  • Case #3 — To clarify job priorities

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