Resolving Conflict

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Even the best of friends will have times when they disagree. Psychologists say if people practice good conflict resolution skills, that instead of harming them, conflicts can help make their friendships even stronger.

On Wednesday, March 14, many students around the United States gathered in protest. Thousands were protesting what many see as a troublesome rise of gun-related violence. Many young people feel that political leaders are not doing enough to address this problem.

Since young people often look to adults to help resolve conflicts, it can be confusing when adults seem to have difficulty resolving conflicts of their own. Although leaders want everyone to feel safe, they can sometimes disagree about how to best accomplish it. Sometimes their feelings can become so intense that they use strong language to express their opinions.

However, there are also disagreements among U.S. students about how to address gun-related violence. In Washington, D.C., some protestors thought that the availability of firearms is the cause of the increase in gun violence. Many students gathered in front of the White House holding signs with messages like “Books, Not Bullets” and “Fire Politicians, Not Guns.”

Heather Taylor is a 15-year-old freshman at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Taylor’s school was recently in the news because of gun violence. She believes that better gun control laws are the solution. “I just hope we can get better gun control. I hope that happens,” she said. “I hope people see we’re really trying and we’re not going to stop.”

Not everyone agrees with her. Caleb Conrad is a 16-year-old junior at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Like Stoneman Douglas High School, Columbine is also known as a site of gun violence—in 1999.  Conrad, however, believes that banning firearms is not the answer. “People say it’s all about gun control, it’s all about, ‘We should ban guns.’ But that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is the people who are doing it.”

Austin Roth, a senior at Lapeer High School in Michigan, said he supports the right of people to honor the memory of those affected by gun violence. “However, I am not supportive of those who use a tragic event to push their political agendas, such as gun control,” he added.

When People Disagree

When people have different ideas about something, sometimes it can lead to conflict. When in conflict, people can say hurtful things to one another. Sometimes friends will stop speaking to one another. There are many reasons why people disagree. Some have different religious beliefs, while others have different life experiences. Other people may have conflicting ideas about how adults or children should behave.

Luckily, there are skills anyone can learn to resolve conflicts. By using these conflict-resolution skills, experts say, not only can you resolve problems, but you can also make relationships with your friends and family even better. Experts recommend that people follow four steps.

1. Listen and Understand

Before you can resolve any conflict, you need to know what it is really about.

First, everyone involved needs to describe how they really feel about a problem. Be clear. Try to make sure that whatever you say answers the questions who, what, when, where, and why.

When people describe how they feel, don’t interrupt. Listen carefully and quietly without responding. As a person speaks, imagine yourself in the same position as he or she is. Each person should focus more on understanding the other than on being understood themselves.

2. Don’t Make Things Worse

Expressing your feelings is often hard, especially when you think your words might make someone else sad, surprised, or angry.

Make it easier for each person to speak. Do not laugh at or joke about his or her ideas. Even if you don’t agree with what someone is saying, avoid screaming or shouting. Needless to say, making mean remarks about a person’s appearance, friends, or family will not help. Publicly revealing a secret out of anger that a friend trusted you with will definitely make the situation worse.

To avoid these problems, set a specific time and place to discuss your conflict. Avoid any times when anyone involved is likely to be especially upset or angry.

3. Work Together

Conflict resolution is not a battle. There are no winners or losers. A conflict is a problem or puzzle for everyone involved to solve together.

When working together, try to make “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of telling your friend, “Your comment about my new shirt made me sad,” try to say, “I am sad when you make fun of my clothes.” By using the word “I” first instead of “you,” a person is less likely to feel blamed.

Sometimes it helps to come up with rules for how everyone should speak to one another. You might establish a set amount of time for people to speak before anyone else can interrupt. You might also make a rule that each person has to speak quietly when expressing his or her ideas. Even if they are not really angry, when someone speaks loudly it can be hard for others to hear what he or she is really saying because loud or harsh voices can be upsetting to many people. If you are worried about being able to keep your voices down, have each person write a description of the problem on a piece of paper. Then, take turns reading what the other person has written.

Resolving conflicts goes a lot better if you practice active listening. When you listen actively, you let the speaker know that you are paying attention to whatever he or she has to say.

When practicing active listening, look directly at someone when he or she is speaking. Don’t overdo it, though! Often staring extra hard at a person can make him or her feel uncomfortable. You should also make “listening noises.” Listening noises are words like “yes,” “no,” “I see,” or “uh-huh.” Instead of interrupting, saying these words at the right times when someone is speaking lets him or her know that you are truly listening.

Once you have finished listening, repeat what you have heard. This shows that you have been listening carefully. It also gives the speaker a chance to make sure that everyone understands what he or she meant.

Resolving a conflict is easier if you practice active listening. When actively listening, you behave in a way that lets the speaker know you are paying attention to what he or she is saying.

4. Find a Solution

You cannot resolve a conflict until everyone understands what each person really thinks and feels. Once you have done that, however, the last step is to brainstorm solutions. Don’t worry if some of your ideas seem funny at first: just come up with as many possible solutions as you can. You might want to put one person in charge of writing down these ideas so everyone can remember them.

Now that you have a list of solutions, look at them together. Do any resolve the conflict especially well? What are the consequences of each solution?


Once you have followed these four steps, there are three possible outcomes. In a yes/yes outcome, everyone is happy with the way things worked out. In a yes/no outcome, some people got what they wanted while some didn’t. In a no/no situation, no one is happy because no one got what they wanted.

If you come up with a yes/yes outcome, be glad. However, be sure everyone knows what actions must be taken to resolve the conflict and who will be responsible for carrying them out. You might set a follow-up meeting in a week or two to see how well your solution is working.

If you don’t come up with a yes/yes solution right away, don’t panic. Just like learning to play a computer game, kick a soccer ball, or speak a new language, getting better at conflict resolution takes practice. If things don’t work out at first, you may need to repeat the four steps of the process. If you are still having an especially difficult time resolving a problem, a parent, teacher, or school counselor can help.

Additional Resources

Learn more about how to resolve conflicts at Edmonds Community College and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network.

Read more about how students are reacting to gun violence at the New York Times and the Economist.

See how student protests have affected U.S. history at Time and the Atlantic.

Images and Sources

Three friends photo: Kipp Jones
Three friends photo license: Creative Commons 2.0

Two friends talking photo: Adrien Zograffi
Two friends talking photo license: Creative Commons 2.0