When you live and work with others, conflicts are bound to arise. A certain amount of conflict can be productive by helping you clarify your values and understand others. But when it happens too frequently, conflict can be detrimental to both your relationships and your peace of mind.

The key to successful conflict resolution is to address the problem early, rather than letting it fester. Here are some hints on how to effectively clear the air and get back on track, whether it's at home or in the office.

1. Talk, talk, talk.
Conflicts often arise when communication is poor. At the first sign of conflict, take the initiative to suggest a time and place where those involved can gather to discuss possible solutions. Although it may be tough to be the one to point out the problem, the alternative is stifling your feelings and possibly allowing the situation to escalate. By acting early, you can prevent a more difficult situation from developing down the road.

2. Take turns.
Once you've pointed out the problem and gathered the parties together, the way that you go about discussing it becomes crucial to successful resolution. Although you may feel that you're in the right, remember that all involved should have equal time to describe their perspective without interruption.

Set some ground rules before starting so that everyone knows they'll have a chance to be heard. For example, take an object like a pencil and hand it to the person speaking to indicate that they have the floor. Only the person with the object in their hand can speak at that time; once they've finished, they can then pass the object to the next speaker.

3. Be assertive, not aggressive.
When there's a disagreement, it can lead to high emotion. Although you want to be clear about how you feel, it's important to do so while still respecting others involved. If you lose your temper and shout or place blame, you'll only get further from resolving the conflict. Instead, use assertive communication skills, such as:

  • Talking in a clear, non-blaming manner
  • Emphasizing "I" statements rather than "You" statements (for example, "What I felt when you said this was...")
  • Validating others' positions to show that you understand them, even if they differ from your own

4. Attack problems, not people.
Even though you may feel anger towards a particular person or people involved in the conflict, try to keep the emphasis on working towards a common solution. Attacking another person or pitting two against one in the case of a group conflict can cause defensiveness. If you can encourage everyone to come to an agreement on what the conflict is about, then you'll have consensus to help in brainstorming solutions.

5. Negotiate solutions.
In order to solve the problem in a way that works for everyone, you may need to compromise. Everyone should be willing to compromise on their ideal situation in order to find a solution that works for the whole group. Work together to identify a range of possible solutions. If you're asked to make a change that you don't support, express what you can do rather than what you can't.

6. Commit to change.
Once you've agreed on a solution, make sure each person knows what changes to make to restore harmony. You might want to set a time to regroup and revisit the issue to evaluate if the arrangement needs any fine-tuning.