Getting Conflict to Resolution

By: Aaron Peterson, MS-NCR ‘12

Once we fully embrace the concept of conflict being an interwoven part of our lives, there is a greater chance we can engage it more successfully. Often, the end goal for all parties involved is resolution. While there is no exact blueprint to ensure resolution, there are many strategies parties can utilize to increase their chances.

More often than not, however, we tend to hinder the possibility of working towards resolution. This can be done by some of the counteractive tactics we implement.  However, this hindrance can also come from our very thoughts. Many times, we put the fundamental attribution error into practice. This is our tendency to overattribute the other person’s behavior to their disposition and put less emphasis on the circumstances (Allerd, 2000). By recognizing this error of attribution, one can appreciate his/her very thoughts working against the possibility of resolution. 

Focus on Feelings

What are some constructive tactics one can utilize to avoid a hindrance and increase the possibility of resolution? One method to consider is to shape how one communicates to the other party. This is the fundamental concept of shifting blame from the other party (even if a person firmly believes the other party is responsible). In doing this, one can potentially diffuse a situation by shifting that focus to the actual problem. An effective way this can be accomplished is by delivering a message that focuses on feelings. This can be done using the XYZ Formula. A statement made with this formula follows the following sequence: “When you do (X) in situation (Y), I feel (Z)” (Wilmot & Hocker, 2001). 

Picture two friends that are in class, and one friend notices the other looking over his/her shoulder and copying answers. Clearly, there are many different ways this situation might play out. However, it is important to think about the XYZ Formula to increase the likelihood of a constructive conversation. The friend that was spied on might say something like, “I value our friendship a lot, but when you copy answers off my test during our algebra exams, I feel very betrayed.” One can see that the ending sentiment and the focus is on the feeling and not remaining on what the other party is doing. By putting this focus back on one’s self, a person can likely increase the chance of moving towards resolution.

Utilize an Advocate

Another possible tool to use in working towards resolution is that of an advocate. An advocate is someone who can act on behalf of one of the parties, because of knowledge of the situation. With this knowledge, advocates can often frame messages, arguments, proposals, and issues in a way that moves a conflict forward productively (Mayer, 2004). Utilizing a trusted advocate can be another mechanism to better ensure the focus remains on the problem and not perpetual blaming.

Realistic About Resolution

One final thought to consider regarding resolution is that it may not always occur.  Most people make resolution to their respective conflicts the ultimate goal.  If that goal is not achieved, they feel a sense of loss. This type of thinking and focus can be potentially dangerous. One reason is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations for certain conflicts. The other more important reason is that when people become too focused on resolution, they miss the opportunity to fully engage in conflict with the other person to reach a deeper level understanding and potential discovery (Mayer, 2004). By striving for resolution, yet focusing on engagement, we allot ourselves the opportunity for growth.

Learn More

Creighton University’s online Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution delivers leading conflict resolution skills in a flexible, online format. For more information, complete the form or call 866.717.6365 to speak with a program manager.


Allerd, K. G.  (2000).  Anger and retaliation in conflict: The role of attribution.  In M. Deutsch and P. Coleman (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution (pp. 236-241).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mayer, B. S.  (2004).  Beyond neutrality: Confronting the crisis in conflict resolution. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wilmot, W. & Hocker, J.  (2001).  Interpersonal conflict (6th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.