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What is the best way to handle conflict?

It can be very difficult to handle conflict, especially when you care about the relationships involved. In order to be clear about the best ways to handle conflict, we should distinguish between two very different kinds of conflict. The first kind is interpersonal conflict. This occurs when people do not like each other or treat each other in disrespectful ways. The second kind of conflict is the conflict inherent in people having interests that are opposed to each other. A classic example of latter kind of conflict is a seller who wants to sell for a high price and a buyer who wants to buy for a low price. Let’s compare the two kinds of conflict. Whereas it is generally important to explore as part of the negotiation process creative options that may satisfy the interests of people whose conflict is driven by opposed interests, the other kind of conflict–interpersonal conflict– is almost always not unhelpful in negotiations. When people do not like each other, or treat each other in disrespectful ways, it generally makes it more difficult to find creative solutions to negotiation challenges. This means when you have interpersonal conflict with someone, you should look for ways to reduce that conflict. You might consider: 1) engaging other stakeholders with whom you do not have interpersonal conflict; 2) changing your communication style to be as respectful as possible; and 3) if appropriate, implementing consequences to stop others from engaging in unprofessional behavior. By contrast, the best way to deal with the inherent conflict of opposed interests is: 1) to ensure that those opposed interests are considered in the context of all stakeholder interests affected by the negotiation, including interests the stakeholders have in common; and 2) to look for creative ways to satisfy those opposed interests, such as by finding asymmetrical options that provide great value to one stakeholder without comparably harming the interests of other stakeholders.

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