Resolving Conflict Using Problem-Solving Methods


This type of thinking can be used in all areas of one's life. Some people refer to it as "thinking outside the box," or "brainstorming." Creative problem solving is all of these things and more. This method of thinking essentially allows individuals or groups to search for solutions, rather than create a stagnated situation by placing blame or getting stuck on irrelevant details; it allows everyone to move forward to reach positive results, rather than staying stuck inside the problem.

Often, when you are the one involved in a conflict, it is hard to be objective, so, stepping away from the situation and looking at it without intense emotions often helps you to see the resolution possibilities in a new light. It may also help to ask yourself what advice you would give someone else if it was them having this particular problem. While many people get stuck or frustrated when it comes to resolving their own conflicts, we are usually more rational and better able to find solutions when we are helping someone else. So, trick yourself into giving you great advice!

It is important to remember that we cannot change other people, only ourselves and circumstances. If friends or family members are inclined to being selfish, stubborn, or combative, and they have been this way as long as you have known them, then chances are that you are not going to change them. You will have to accept their flaws, and learn to work around them when trying to resolve conflict with them. Lastly, it helps to talk with an objective, trusted friend about any conflict situation; you could ask them how they would resolve the conflict. Below are the seven conflict examples followed by several creative ways of resolving them. Try to come up with one or two of your own as you think about each situation.

1. Two or more parties have differing or opposing agendas, goals, or desires.

Remember This Conflict?

You and your fiance have a date for the movies, you want to see the new romantic comedy, but he wants to see the newest shoot-um-up, action adventure flick. As you stand in line discussing which movie to see you realize that the last time you went to the movies together you compromised and saw the movie of his choice. Now you are beginning to feel a little angry. He should know that it is your turn; he should simply compromise this time as you did last time--right? But he continues to try and convince you to see his movie. You protest and remind him of your prior compromise, but this does nothing to change his mind. He begins to get angry and can't understand why you are being so stubborn. To avoid an embarrassing full-blown argument in the movie line, you give in again and agree to see the movie he wants to see.

Creative Resolutions:

A. This couple could decide on a "take-turns" policy. They could keep track of who picked the movie on a calendar, and this way, before they even leave for their date, they will know whose turn it is.

B. They could decide on a movie before they get to the theater by checking the schedules in advance. If they want to see different movies, they could invite another similarly minded couple so that if they want to split up, the guys can go to one movie, while the ladies go to another.

2. One party has something the other party wants or needs, but he or she will not comply.

Remember This Conflict?

You have a big interview but can't afford to purchase a good suit. You happen to know that your friend, who wears the same size, has a several great suits that he wears to work. You really need this job, so you politely ask if you can borrow one of his suits for the interview. He refuses. You explain that you really need this job and having a good appearance will help tremendously, he reiterates that he doesn't lend out his clothes to anyone, that he only has a few suits and he really can't spare one. You are upset by his lack of generosity and don't see what the big deal is, after all, he can't wear three suits at the same time, can he? He is annoyed that you won't take no for an answer and are refusing to understand his point of view; after all, he thinks, "Why don't you purchase your own darn suit, you're going to need something to wear to work if you get the job!

Creative Resolutions:

A. The person asking could offer to have the suit dry cleaned after he uses it.

B. The person asking could offer an equal exchange, or provide some needed favor or service to the lending person.

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C. The person lending could set specific conditions that would put their mind at ease. For instance, if lending out your car, you could set a condition that if any damage is done, the person borrowing the car must promptly pay for any repairs and return the car in its original condition.

3. The personalities between two people creates tension.

Remember This Conflict:

You are with your sister at a cousin's engagement party. Whenever she is in big groups she tends to become very animated and loves to be the center of attention. This annoys you because she often makes you the brunt of her jokes to get a laugh from strangers and other family members. You see her in the ladies' room and comment angrily that you don't appreciate her making you her "straight-man." You tell her to knock it off and find another way of entertaining the crowd. She tells you that you are being too sensitive and that you are just jealous because she is getting all the attention. She goes back out to the party and continues to make you the brunt of her jokes. You are hurt and embarrassed by her jokes concerning your life, personal flaws, past boyfriends, etc. She is annoyed because she doesn't see the harm in making a few jokes about you--it's all in good fun.

Creative Resolutions:

A. The offended sister could speak to other family members and make them aware of how her sister's jokes make her feel, thus, they might not encourage the comedian when she makes her sister the focus of her comedy.

B. The comedic sister could change her routine a little by using the sister's good points and accomplishments and a little self-depreciating humor for material instead of using her flaws and mistakes.

4. Something significant in life or an ongoing relationship has changed.

Remember This Conflict?

Your husband is promoted at work, and while at first this appeared to be great news, you soon realize that he must be away from home much more often than usual. He comes home very late several times a week and must travel on business over weekends at least once a month and sometimes twice a month. When he is home he is tired and stressed and just wants to "unwind." You work also and are having difficulty caring for the children, working all day and maintaining your home with little or no assistance from him. You tell him that you don't think the new job is working out well as far as the family's quality of life is concerned. He feels that without the extra money he is making from the new position, he will not be able to give his children the things that they need and want. You counter that what they really need is quality time spent with him, and furthermore, that you need a partner who is working with you, raising a family. He becomes upset and feels that you are not being appreciative of all his hard work.
Creative Resolutions:

A. The wife could cut back on her own hours at work so that she has more time to devote to home and family.

B. The wife could offer to increase her time at work, thereby supplementing the income lost by the husband's giving up his larger salary.

C. The husband could speak to his superiors and see if he could do some of his work from home, thus cutting his travel time.

5. One person betrays the trust of another.

Remember This Conflict?

You confide to a close friend that you are having marital problems, and that you and your husband are considering a divorce. You don't want to make it "public" yet because you are not sure if divorce is imminent, and you don't want the children to know until the decision is concrete. She sympathizes and promises to tell no one. Two weeks later, your son comes home from school very upset and asks you if you and your husband are getting a divorce! You inquire how he heard about this and he tells you that his best friend (your close friend's son) told him he overheard his parents talking about it the night before. You sit down and explain to your son that you and his father have been having some problems, but that you are trying to work things out. You assure him that if you decide to get divorced that you will sit down and discuss it with him and his sister first. Then you get on the phone to call your "friend," and give her a piece of your mind. She betrayed your trust, she promised not to tell anyone about your secret. She counters that it was purely accidental; she thought that her son had gone to bed when she was talking to her husband about it and realized, too late, that he was snooping in the hallway. She told her son to keep it to himself, but "you know how kids are." You tell her that she wasn't supposed to tell anyone--not even her husband. She counters that she tells her husband everything and that he really doesn't "count;" it's not as if she told mutual friends, or the mail person. She apologizes, but feels that your son finding out was simply an accident.

Creative Resolutions:

A. The confider and her husband could have sat down with their children and made them aware that they were having some problems, and explain that they were trying to work them out before she confided in anyone else.

B. The confider and her husband could seek marriage counseling to help them through their decision. This would provide an objective third person to confide in, rather than friends or neighbors, who may not be equipped to handle such news.

6. One person creates conflict by saying or doing something thoughtless or irresponsible.

Remember This Conflict?

You have to work late two days a week at your new job and your husband doesn't get home until after six at night. You need a sitter to walk your two children home from school and care for them for a few hours, or until you get home from work. A retired neighbor, who you know well, offers to take the job for a reasonable rate and you tell her that you will talk to your husband and get back to her with a decision in the morning. That night, your older brother asks you to give the job to his 15-year-old daughter. She needs to learn some responsibility, earn some extra money, and she would love to do it, plus they live close by and it would be simple for her to walk your kids home from school. You agree with his request, thank your neighbor and tell her that your niece will be taking the job. You hire your niece to babysit two times a week, after school for three hours. For the first two weeks, things go smoothly. Your niece is doing a great job, the kids love her, and she's happy to be earning some extra spending money. On the third week, your niece asks if she can bring her boyfriend along with her to baby-sit, and you agree that this is fine as long as she takes good care of the children. When you get home you see that the house is a total mess, the kids are still in their school clothes, and they tell you that they haven't had anything to eat since lunch, except potato chips and soda. Your niece is sitting on the living room sofa watching a movie with her boyfriend, totally oblivious to the situation at hand. You speak to your niece privately and tell her that you don't think it's appropriate for her to bring her boyfriend along again and you explain why. You tell her you are only going to pay her half of what you usually pay her, because she only did half the job she was supposed to. She quietly agrees, but when she gets home she tells her father that you treated her unfairly and did not pay you. Your brother calls and tells you that he thinks you acted unfairly with his daughter and that she won't be babysitting for you any longer. You are very angry and frustrated by your niece's behavior and your brother's one sided opinion on the subject. Your niece feels that you agreed to let her boyfriend come over, and that she was being responsible by asking; she is upset that she didn't get paid. Your brother, not having the full story, and being somewhat biased in his daughter's favor, feels that you slighted his daughter. You call your neighbor to see if she is still available, but she is not. You now have no sitter, and are in a conflict with your brother and niece, caused by your niece's irresponsible behavior.

Resolution to Conflict 6:

A. The aunt could have paid the niece her full salary, and made a "no company" policy for the future.

B. The aunt could make her brother aware of the situation and then find another sitter through an ad in the local paper, or through word of mouth from friends or neighbors.

C. The aunt could have let the instance go and had her niece babysit at her house in the future, so that the father could supervise his daughter's behavior.

7. One person's needs in the relationship are not being met and the other party refuses to acknowledge this lack, or do anything about It.

Remember This Conflict?

Your good friend's long-time boyfriend has recently broken up with her, and she is very upset over this. She really thought he was "the one." She has been talking about it to you constantly in her efforts to get over her pain and sadness. She calls you nearly every day, and comes to your apartment often to hang out and have dinner. You do your best to be there for her and listen to her frustrations, sometimes you are on the phone with her for hours discussing this one situation. A month later, you find out that your mother is ill. She needs to have surgery and you are very worried about her. You call your friend to confide in her, but she is out on a date and tells you she'll call you back later. She calls you when she gets home, and you tell her about your mother; she listens for a few minutes, tells you how sad she is for you, but then changes the subject and starts talking about her date. You try to talk about your feelings concerning your mother again, and she abruptly tells you that she has to go, she has an early morning at work, and she is really tired. She promises to call you tomorrow. You hang up and are left feeling that the friendship with this person is inequitable. When she needed a shoulder to cry on, you listened and made time in your busy schedule to be there for her, but when you needed her to listen to you, she is suddenly "busy." You realize that her needs are being met in this relationship but yours are not. A conflict has occurred in this relationship.

Resolution to Conflict 7:

A. Friend A could let this instance go and talk to someone else about the concerns she has for her mother. She could wait and see if the inequity issue comes up again in the future with the first friend before considering it a conflict.

B. Friend A could be very straight forward and say, "I really need to talk about my mother's illness; I'm really worried and I need your input." Some people just need direct requests and are not good at subtleties.


There are usually multiple ways to handle any particular conflict. All that is needed is a fresh view of the situation to find alternate solutions. Creative problem-solving often helps us look at things in a new light, and allows us to see things from another perspective. It is a benefit if you can have the other person or persons involved in the conflict participate in coming up with possible solutions. For instance, in Conflict 6, the brother and niece could contribute to solving the problem by giving their input. Also, consulting a friend or family member who is detached from the situation often helps. These confidants can provide an unbiased, objective view, and perhaps shed light on a situation that is clouded by emotion.