Beet Life

Five Effective Strategies For Resolving Disputes

1. Ask open-ended questions.

It is important to ask open-ended questions in order to identify the other person’s position and interest. Open-ended questions invite a narrative and paints a more accurate picture of what the problem is. For example,


Do you regret your decision?
Do you want to compromise?

You SHOULD say:

How do you feel about your decision? (open-ended)

If I am willing to do [...],
what are you willing to do? (open-ended)

2. Focus on the problem.

Suppose there is a dispute between over uncleaned dog poop in one neighbor’s lawn.

Neighbor: This is not the first time your dog
made my life difficult! He also bit my
daughter last summer! That dog has to go!

You: Your daughter threw a rock at my dog!

Neighbor: That's a lie!

During a heated conversation, it is highly likely that the conversation can get out of topic. In these situations, you should remind the parties in conflict or the person you are in conflict with to focus on particular issues. For example:

Your claim that my dog bit your daughter
last summer is a separate matter.
Let's focus on the poop problem first.
What do you want to do to resolve the
uncleaned dog poop?

3. Reframe the issue and praphrase the language.

Paraphrasing inflamatory language and/or reframing the issue helps people focus on the problem at hand. For example,

Neighbor: You lazy [expletive]! You don't care about other people!

In response, YOU SHOULD NOT SAY:

So the issue for you is that [his/my] dog pooped on
your lawn and [he/I] didn't clean it up?"


"If I understand correctly, the issue for you is
that [a] dog pooped in your lawn,
but [no one] cleaned it up. Is this correct?"

Notice how using neutral language reframes the issue and moves towards a solution rather than more conflict. Another example:

Husband: You do not give me enough money!
Wife: Do I hear you correctly when you say you would
like me to increase my financial contribution to the household?

4. React positively.

People involved in a dispute are generally frustrated or angry. It is highly likely that they will take that frustration or anger out on you. It is important for you not to take things personally and react positively. For example,

Aggrieved Person: You think I'm lying!
You're on his side!

You: What makes you think that?

Providing a calm non-defensive invitation for the aggrieved person to explain their position or how they feel about the situation provides you with an understanding of what their interests are and how to best resolve the issue at hand.

5. Facilitate an interest-based conversation by providing reality checks.

Providing a reality check may facilitate a solution when a person is unwilling to move from his/her position. Whenever a person threatens or demands for something unrealistic, replying with a challenge will create more animosity between you and the other person. For example,

Person: I will sue you in court!
You: Go ahead!

Instead, use open-ended questions that force the other person to reexamine the feasibility of their demands or threats. It also opens up a discussion about more reasonable options. For example,

How will suing me stop dogs from pooping in your lawn?

How will suing me clean up the poop in your lawn?

How is the court going to enforce what you are proposing?

I like using mnemonics to remember certain concepts. Next time you encounter conflict, remember to OFRRR love! (1) open-ended question, (2) focus on the problem, (3) Reframe and paraphrase, (4) React positively, (5) Reality check!

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