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Trevor E.S. Smith | Resolving conflicts: pitfalls and pathways

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMTrevor E. S. Smith - Contributor

Do you have unresolved conflicts? Is there some issue that you have walked away from without settling it? Are you faced with someone who refuses to listen?

Feedback from readers highlights the challenge of effectively resolving conflicts.

Conflict resolution stands on two pillars. Together, these two factors determine whether the conflict will be resolved and what it will take to get some level of agreement.

The twin conflict resolution pillars are mindset and stake. Mindset and stake are key reasons why people refuse to listen to each other.

Depending on what is at stake and the mindset of either party, conflicts may be swiftly resolved or drag on with no clear end in sight.


When any party in a conflict has ‘not losing face’ as their top priority, the resolution process will drag on until they get their way or they can be persuaded to change their minds.

Their interest is not so much on resolving the issue as ensuring that they protect their self-image.


Traditional approaches to find win-win solutions might fail. They are not keen to have the other party leave the dispute feeling that they have won. The other party should learn that when you challenge them, you lose. Simple!

Difficult though it may be, the best long-term solution might be to use the reversal technique that is applied in handling objections in the sales process.

“You believe that by being hard-nosed you will demand respect, but it is the opposite. You will be viewed as being unreasonable and self-consumed. A better option is to take the high road. How many people are ready to tangle with Michelle Obama after she says when they go low we go high?”

That assumes that there is a third-party intervention. You can’t say that!

There are no guarantees. Faced with a stubborn hothead with stuffed ears, the options for resolution are limited.

If you are dealing with the issue by yourself, why not take the high-road approach? Why not sacrifice being right on the cross of peaceful coexistence?


Sometimes the implications of things not going their way is so overwhelming that individuals are willing to put reason aside.

Forget right, wrong, or being fair and reasonable. For them, there can only be one outcome.

This places a huge boulder on the pathway to resolution. Actually, there might be no harmonious solution.


High stakes have a way of dimming the eyes. We don’t see too clearly the big picture when our view is blocked by what is at stake.

Painting the big picture, taking care to highlight the things that are being overlooked by either party, is a good starting point. However, it might not be enough.

A follow-up step might be to focus attention on an alternative that could make a difference.

Ask: “What happens if there is no resolution?”

For example, are you prepared to have this drag on in court for years, with the lawyers being the only beneficiaries?

Or, you willing to let this stand between the excellent relationship that we have enjoyed. Is this worth it?

What are the implications for the children/business/group/family/church community?

Identifying higher-order stakes that can appeal to either party is one way to address the stake pitfall.


This is like a recurring decimal. Disputes flare up on the basis of misinformation.

Fake news fuels fiery feuds.

With the emotions stirred, feelings take over and fact-checking is not entertained.


Fight feelings. Face facts.

Frankly, in a reasonable world, an appeal to the facts should resolve conflicts based on misinformation.

If that is not happening, then we need to revert to mindset or stake.


Is walking away for a peaceful life truly peaceful?

Isn’t there a residual nagging thought or feeling?

Remember, conflict can be internal. Internal conflicts have a major impact on our thoughts, actions and well-being.

Unless you can really let the matter go, walking away is at best a temporary measure.

Seek resolution. And by the way, resolution does not necessarily mean reconciliation.


Tell me about a conflict you have experienced at

- Trevor E.S. Smith/Success with People Academy interpersonal relations and performance-enhancement specialists, providing human capacity development and technology-driven solutions. Email: