What gives you hope, when conflict is writ large in both national and global news? For the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and in Ukraine, we can hardly find words to express the depth of injury and grief on all sides. And these are only two of one-hundred-ten armed conflicts flaming around the world right now (Geneva Academy).

In the face of such widespread trauma and heartbreak, what can we do?

I reach for acting locally: treating our spouses, families, friends, and co-workers with respect, consideration, and kindness. This isn’t a naive hope; of course, tempers will flare, assumptions and biases will interfere, and feelings will get hurt. After all, we are humans, with emotions and imperfect ways of communicating. However, by handling conflict with greater skill and grace, we can better navigate disagreements, repair fractured relationships, and creatively solve challenges. We can heal the strife in our world, one conversation at a time. That’s what gives me hope.

How do can you tell if your conflict conversation (or any conversation) is complete and each person feels good about the agreement you reached? It’s surprisingly simple: check if you and the other person have all three kinds of resolution satisfaction:

Psychological satisfaction. Have you ever left an argument or conversation, feeling that the other person was uncooperative, that your side of the story wasn’t understood, or that the issue wasn’t really addressed? Yes, me too. What we crave is that positive feeling of being aligned with the other person and content about the resolution of the issue. Here’s what you can do to achieve it in your tough conversations:

  • Be a partner with the other person in finding a solution or resolving the conflict; if you listen well, show willingness to understand, and own your part of the issue, the other person is more likely to reciprocate.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s emotions and express your own emotions about the issue; doing so gives relief to both parties, builds trust, and develops understanding that helps lead to lasting, meaningful solutions.
  • Notice if you feel relief. Check with your conversation partner, too. If one or both of you don’t feel relief, something remains to be aired. Keep talking!

Procedural satisfaction. Can you recall a team meeting that ended without charting next steps and action items or a community meeting that gave too little time for meaningful public input? These conversation lacked procedural satisfaction, to which people commonly react with confusion or anger. To avoid these ill feelings, you can do these things to achieve procedural satisfaction in your one-on-one conversations or in group meetings:

  • Give equal and sufficient opportunities to everyone to share their perspectives
  • Openly share relevant information in complete and transparent ways, so that people have confidence in the quality and reliability of the information
  • Summarize next steps and action items for each person, and ensure each person agrees to them

Substantive satisfaction. How do you feel when your tough conversation generates no tangible outcomes? Lousy, right? Especially after working up the courage to have a tough conversation and taking the time to engage with the other person. Instead, you can achieve substantive satisfaction with your conversation partner, if you:

  • Pay attention to each other’s values, needs, interests, and concerns and address them in the agreement you make together
  • Express the positive intangible outcomes of your tough conversation, such as renewed respect, understanding, or kindness
  • Ensure agreements are carried out: be sure to summarize — and carry out! — any agreements involving tangible things, such as behaviors, processes, money, time, rights, or possessions

Use this idea:
Before you start your next tough conversation, take a moment to prepare yourself. Consider which of aspects of the three satisfactions are most important to you; then, consider which aspects the other person would value most. This clarity can help you navigate the conversation with greater grace and better outcomes.


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