Strategies for Assertive Conflict Management

21 August, 2020
In this article, we're going to look at how to resolve and manage conflicts assertively and constructively.
 

Handling conflicts both assertively and constructively is the most appropriate, mature way to act. However, this isn’t an easy task. In general, when faced with a conflict, most people tend to react in two ways: either by repressing feelings or by acting aggressively and irritably. Neither of these responses is productive. As a result, we should find strategies for our children and teens to learn assertive conflict management.

Assertive conflict management

Conflicts in the form of disputes, fights, and arguments are all common with children, teens and adults. These situations are an inevitable part of the process of growth and development of human beings.

However, conflicts don’t always have to be a bad thing. In fact, when properly directed, they can become a productive learning experience.

The problem is that children and teens often don’t have the necessary tools to manage conflicts calmly and objectively. Therefore, it’s important that we teach our children how to face conflicts with assertiveness, both in schools and families.

The first step to reaching an agreement is adopting a flexible, collaborative attitude. Then, both parties need to find a shared objective to create a satisfactory solution.

Assertive conflict management can lead to positive resolutions.
 

As a result, children need to know certain communication skills, such as active listening, empathy, and assertiveness. However, we all know that emotions and feelings play a very important role in conflict resolution. This is why we need to teach children from an early age to recognize, verbalize, and manage their emotions.

“Conflicts happen because we have different beliefs at the top (neocortex), while we all share basic beliefs.”

— Eduard Punset —

Strategies for assertive conflict management

Next, we’re going to suggest several strategies to help teach assertive conflict management, both at school and at home, that work for children and teens.

Active listening sessions

The parties involved in the conflict meet in a quiet space at a relaxed time of day when no one is in a rush. Next, the parties will have 3 periods of 5 minutes each to discuss their version of the problem. However, they have to respect the following rules:

The speaker:

  • Describes their version of the problem clearly and specifically.
  • Expresses feelings and emotions from their point of view.
  • Doesn’t accuse or prosecute the other party and isn’t reproachful either.
  • Is grateful for the other person’s attention.

The listener:

  • Concentrates on the speaker.
  • Is patient and not reacting to the details and explanations of the speaker.
  • Isn’t distracted while the speaker is talking. Also, they’re showing interest through non-verbal language.
  • Asks for clarification with quick questions if something isn’t clear.
 

This exercise can be either lengthened or shortened at times depending on attention level. While we think listening is easy, sometimes it’s easy to interrupt.

Expressing emotions with assertive conflict management

This involves thinking about what we feel about the conflict and then putting our emotions into words. Each of the parties will say 3 different emotions that define how they feel about the problem. They will write them down and explain them using the following sentences:

  • “I feel …….. (emotion) when you …….. (facts).”
  • “I understand that you feel …….. (emotion), but I feel ……… (emotion).”

Conflicts often generate emotions that are an obstacle to a positive resolution.

Ask for changes

With this exercise, we can learn to express our requests in an appropriate and respectful way. You need to complete the following sentences: “When you …… (facts), I believe ……. (facts) and I feel ……. (emotions). As a result, I would like to ……… (request).

A mother and daughter talking together.

Switch roles between the parties in the conflict

The goal of changing roles is to create some empathy. Empathizing consists of trying to understand the other person and their motives. This is a way of showing that we care about the discomfort the other person is feeling. Therefore, each person will act as if they’re the other person and they need to explain what they think about the problem.

 

Lots of solutions

After actively listening and empathizing with the other party’s point of view, each person expresses all the solutions that they can think of to solve the problem. All solutions are valid. Creativity and imagination are more important than the quality of the solutions. The goal isn’t to present as many as possible.

Once each party gives all their solutions, parties choose one or two. Then, they can think about what it would take to act on the solutions. They need to think about the current situation and the steps that each of the parties needs to take to reach the ideal solution.

Personal contract

Lastly, the parties need to commit in writing to carry out the proper steps and actions aimed at positively and constructively transforming the problem.

Once the conflict is resolved and both parties are committed to change, it’s good to do a little reflection that will serve as a learning process for the children. To do this, you can ask them questions, such as:

  • “In what way has this problem made you grow as a person?”
  • “What lessons did you learn about yourself, the other person, and your relationship?”