The 4 Kinds of Conflict Resolution

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Mahatma Gandhi, Indian leader


Different Types of Conflict ResolutionAn elderly couple celebrating their 50th anniversary had no secrets, except for a shoe box the wife had always kept hidden under the bed. She agreed to let her husband look inside. When he did he found two crocheted dolls and $50,000 in cash. “Years ago,” she explained, “my mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was never to argue. Instead, when I got angry I should keep quiet and crochet a doll.”

Her husband was delighted; she’d only been angry at him twice in 50 years! “Honey,” he said, “that explains the dolls, but what about the $50,000?”

“Oh,” she replied smiling, “that’s from selling the dolls.”

The truth is … no matter how hard you try to get along at home or at work, you’re going to have conflicts. That’s not the problem. The problem comes in handling those conflicts … or difficult people … most effectively.

That’s why I’ll be offering my webinar on “DIFFICULT PEOPLE: How To Spot Them and Stop Them” at 2:00 Eastern time on November 13, 2014. Registration does not open for another week, but I’m giving you advance notice so you can put it on your calendar.

To give you some help right now, however, you need to realize that every conflict has two variables: a) the quality of the SOLUTION that you and the other person achieve, and b) the quality of the RELATIONSHIP you develop between you and the other person. With those two variables, you have four possible outcomes when you’re trying to resolve a problem.

1. Weak solution-weak relationship

This happens when you and the other person are not able to resolve your conflict and the two of you are still angry with each other. This typically happens when one or both of you don’t have the communication skills you need. Or there might be a power struggle going on between the two of you, and so neither one is willing to “give in.”

I’ll address this in more detail in my new book … “The Payoff Principle: Discover The 3 Secrets For Getting What You Want Out Of Life And Work” … being released near the end of the year.

For a great new excerpt on communication, click here.

2. Strong solution-weak relationship

In this situation, you find a way to resolve your conflict with the other person, but the WAY in which you resolve the conflict hurts the relationship. You walked away from the situation feeling badly.

Several things can bring this about. It may be that one or both of you just gave in. You decided you would rather compromise or have peace-at-any-price than continue the discussion. Oh, the solution you found may have been pretty good, but you left the discussion with resentment.

This can also happen when there’s an obvious power difference between the two of you, such as a boss and an employee. It’s like the time the employee was asked how long he’d been working for the company. He replied, “Ever since they threatened to fire me.” The boss may have had good reason to fire the employee and the boss may have had a good solution to improving the worker’s productivity, but the WAY in which he did it hurt the relationship.

3. Weak solution-strong relationship

There are times when you simply cannot find a solution to the problem you and the other person are facing, but you still feel good about each other. As Dr. Shae Graham Kosch, a marriage counselor for more than thirty years, says, “There are always issues around in-laws, children, money … What’s crucial is keeping things positive … Couples that retain mutual respect and understanding … stay together.”

Of course, you may think that’s easier said than done. I understand. But a good starting point is to identify the issues that MUST be resolved — and learn to live with the rest! Dirty socks, snoring, thermostat settings, unmade beds and a thousand other things can drive our partners crazy. But are those the issues that MUST be resolved, or are there more important issues to focus on? Focus on the biggies, and for every negative experience you have in your relationship look for five positive ones to balance things out.

4. Strong solution-strong relationship

Of course, this is our hope for every conflict situation. The problem is resolved once and for all and everyone in the relationship has good feelings about one another.

Certainly it takes work. As politician Harold Washington (1922-1987) said, “Most of our problems can be solved. Some of them will take brains and some of them will take patience, but all of them will have to be wrestled with like an alligator in the swamp.”

And it takes skill. I’ll give you more skills during my November 13th webinar on “Difficult People: How To Spot Them And Stop Them,” but you’ll be off to a great start if you realize that everyone has three needs in the midst of conflict. One, the need for clarity. Both parties want to know what the other one thinks. Two, the need for validation. Both parties want their ideas, feelings, and solutions to be recognized and understood. And three, the need for resolution. Both parties want to find practical, workable solutions.

Help the other person meet those needs and you’ll be on your way to stronger solutions and stronger relationships.


Think of a conflict or disagreement that you’ve had in the last three months. Which of the four outcomes listed above did you experience?