Dealing with Conflict

In an ongoing conflict, at least one person (usually both) feels disrespected or perceives they have been disrespected.
Dealing with Conflict

People Want to be Respected

People feel respected when they feel heard.

  1. The most important thing you can do in a conflict (where safety isn’t an issue) is to listen. Let the other person know you have heard them and understood them. (Understanding doesn’t mean you agree with them.)
  2. The other most important thing is how you talk with them. Use an “I” message when you are upset. Start with:  “I feel …” “How this affects me…” “What I would like to have happen….”

Don’t accuse, put down, or criticize:  “You never…” “You always…” They will just get upset and won’t be able to hear what you’re saying.

If you’ve tried coming to an agreement on your own and either party feels the other is not able to talk and/or listen to each other; call Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa at 319-248-1940.

Difficult Conversation Checklist

Adapted from Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.

Step I. Begin with Self-Reflection

Sort out what happened

  • Where do your perceptions come from? (Past experiences, expectations, rumors, rules, etc.)
  • Where do their perceptions come from?
  • What impact has this situation had on you?
  • What do you think their intentions were?
  • What have you each done that has contributed to the problem or the current situation?

Understand your emotions

  • Explore your emotions about the person or the situation. (Tense, afraid, angry, insulted, etc.)
  • Identify similar people or situations from your past and any feelings or thoughts associated with them.
  • Notice any similar feelings or thoughts you have with this person or in this situation.

Get clear

  • What’s important about this situation, from your point of view?
  • What are your concerns?
  • What’s at stake, for you?
  • What would you want the other person to understand?
  • What do you want to have happen?
  • Further self-reflection: Reflect on how this is related to your own personal history & patterns.

Step II. Check Your Purposes and Whether to Talk


  • What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation?
  • Can you have your intention be to have a conversation that supports both of you learning more about the situation?
  • Can you share what you want about the situation and joint problem solving?


  • What is the best way to address your concerns and achieve your purposes?
  • Do you want to communicate the issues and concerns directly?
  • Would it be worthwhile to do more self-reflection or personal work first?
  • Do you want to confide in a colleague, advisor or higher-up to brainstorm?
  • Is this a personal issue or a policy issue?
  • Can you affect the problem by changing your own communication and actions?
  • If you decide not to raise the issue, what can you do to help yourself to “let go”.

Step III. How to Begin the Conversation

  • Describe the problem as the difference between your stories: you have different perspectives, expectations, etc.
  • Include both viewpoints as legitimate parts of the discussion.
  • Share your purposes. If you have common or compatible goal or concerns, mention them.
  • Invite them to join you as a partner in sorting out the situation together.

Step IV. Explore Their Story and Yours Together

  • Listen to understand their perspective on what happened. Ask questions. Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations. Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it. Try to understand how the two of you got to this point.
  • Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, feelings.
  • Reframe, reframe, reframe to keep on track. Move the focus:
    • from: self-righteousness (“I’m right”) to understanding perceptions;
    • from blame (“This is your fault.”) to contribution (“I’d like to look at how we got here and where we’d like to go from here.”);
    • from accusations to intent and the desired impact; and
    • from judgment or characterizations (“I’m not sure you can handle this.”) to expressing your own feelings and concerns and listening to others’ concerns.
  • Be persistent.

Step V. Problem solving

  • Invent options that meet each side’s most important concerns and interests. You may invent a new procedure that works better than the usual way.
  • You can also look to standards for what should happen. (i.e: procedures, job descriptions, organizational policies, and laws). Relationships which go one way rarely last.
  • Talk about how to keep communication open.
  • When people feel able to talk safely, they waste no time bringing up problems and coming to a resolution.

Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa

319-248-1940 |
509 Kirkwood Ave., Iowa City, IA 52240