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Whenever we're in a conflict with someone, we have a clear decision to make. We can avoid the issue or choose to resolve it.

Like every other aspect of successful communication, resolving conflicts takes thought, care and skill. Consider two people and their approaches. Whenever Wanda is upset she plunges right in, says what's on her mind and hopes for the best. Nina, on the other hand, is more careful. For example, when she wants to talk to her husband, friend or boss about something that has the potential of causing a blow-up, she waits until they're both fairly relaxed.

Who's most successful in easing discord and settling problems? Nina, of course. She's conscious of timing, a very important point. Don't engage in a delicate problem-solving talk when either you or the other person is tired, preoccupied, in a hurry to go somewhere, or extremely angry.

In addition to timing, surroundings are also important. The fewer distractions the better. A blaring television set is not conducive to clear, calm thought.

If the time and place are good, a four-step "conflict resolution" approach can settle many disputes. Developed by Don Dinkmeyer, Ph.D, and Dr. Jon Carlson as part of a marriage enrichment program, its elements can be used in many nonmarital situations as well.

Show Mutual Respect. Don't blame, accuse, demean or insult. Don't try to determine who's right or wrong. Listen with care. In sum, as Dr. Dinkmeyer and Dr. Carlson put it, seek to understand and respect each other's point of view.

Pinpoint the Real Issue. Often we have "surface" fights that don't touch the basic issue. Feeling unfairly treated, feeling your judgment questioned and resenting it, feeling vengeful and needing to retaliate may be the real basic issues. Look for what the conflict is really about; that's what has to be resolved.

Seek Areas of Agreement. When two people are very angry with each other they often think there's absolutely nothing they agree on. Prove each other wrong. "Most couples agree on a lot more than they disagree on,' Dr. Carlson says. Find areas of agreement, even if it's only that you don't want a permanent break. Using that as a springboard, you'll find lots of other things to agree on.

Mutually Participate in Finding a Solution. Since the conflict involves both of you, it's most helpful if you both seek possible solutions. Says Dr. Carlson, "If both parties offer suggestions on ways to improve things, they have the best chance of reaching and agreement."

(From Emotional Health, by Myron Brenton and the Editors of Prevention Magazine, Pub.óRodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1985, pp 149-151)

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