Conflict Management: “The Interest-Based Relational Approach”


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The "Interest-based Relational Approach", or IBR approach to conflict management or resolution respects personal differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position. In resolving conflict using this approach, these guidelines are suggested:

  • Make sure that good relationships are the first priority: As far as possible, treat the other party calmly and try to build mutual respect. Be courteous to one-another and remain constructive under pressure.
  • Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just "being difficult" – real and valid differences can lie behind conflicted positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging relationships.
  • Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: By listening carefully it’s possible to understand why the person is adopting his or her position.
  • Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively it’s necessary to understand where the other person or interest group is coming from before defending one's own position.
  • Set out the "Facts": Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision.

By following these guidelines, it’s often possible to keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike which so-often causes conflict to spin out of control.

Then use the process below to resolve the conflict:

  • Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that it’s feasible to get to this idea or solution jointly.

Step One: Set the Scene

If appropriate to the situation, agree to the guidelines of the IBR Approach (or at least consider using the approach yourself.) Make sure that people understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, which may be best resolved through discussion and negotiation rather than through raw aggression.

If the facilitator is involved in the conflict, emphasize the fact that he or she is presenting their perception of the problem. Use active listening skills to ensure an understanding of the other's positions and perceptions. Active listening skills include the following:

Restating what one hears the other person say;

Paraphrasing what one hears the other person say.

Summarizing what one hears the other person say.

The facilitator should use an adult, assertive approach when speaking and not appear either submissive or aggressive.


Step Two: Gather Information

Try to get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns. Ask for the other person's viewpoint and confirm that their opinion or point of view is respected and that their cooperation in necessary to solve the problem.

Try to understand their motivations and goals and how actions or speech from those holding opposing views may affect them.

Try to understand the conflict in objective terms: Is it affecting parish life? Disrupting programs and ministries? Hampering decision-making? Be sure to focus on organizational issues and leave personalities out of the discussion.

  • Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person's point of view.
  • Identify issues clearly and concisely.
  • Use "I feel" statements, rather than statements that begin, “You…”
  • Remain flexible.
  • Clarify feelings.

Step Three: Agree on the Problem

This sounds like an obvious step, but often different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause people to perceive problems very differently. You'll need to agree the problems that you are trying to solve before you'll find a mutually acceptable solution.

Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems – if it isn't possible to reach a common perception of the problem then at the very least, try to understand what the other person sees as the problem.


Step Four: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

If everyone is going to feel satisfied with the resolution, it will help if everyone has had fair input in generating solutions. Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, including ones never considered before.


Step Five: Negotiate a Solution

By this stage, the conflict may be resolved; Both sides may better understand the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all.

However, real differences may have been uncovered between the two positions. This is where a technique like win-win negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, at least to some extent, satisfies everyone.

There are various guiding principles here: Be Calm, Exercise Acceptance, Be Patient, and Have Respect.

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