Managing Conflict and Resolving Disputes

Conflict management is key to resolving difficult disputes. Parties to a family law negotiation often become so focused on beating the other party that they lose sight of their most important goals. They also forget that their opponent has important goals and interests, too. Conflict management efforts can be intense, emotional and seemingly insurmountable in family law disputes between estranged partners with a history of acrimony and distrust.

How can parties who are at odds with each other and no longer trust each other make smart decisions for themselves and their children? Here are some steps to follow to improve your conflict management skills:

  1. Turning Adversaries into Partners

    Part III of William Ury’s book, Getting Past No: Negotiation in Difficult Situations,pp 157-171, says, “It takes two to tangle, but it takes only one to begin to untangle a knotty situation.” Ury provides the following advice:

  2. Treat Your Opponent with Respect

    Treat your opponent not as an object to be pushed, but as a person to be persuaded. “Rather than trying to change the other side’s thinking by direct pressure, you change the environment in which they make decisions. You let them draw their own conclusions and choose for themselves. Your goal is not to win over them, but to win them over. You need to resist normal human temptations and do the opposite of what you naturally feel like doing. You need to suspend your reaction when you feel like striking back, to listen when you feel like talking back, to ask questions when you feel like telling your opponent the answers, to bridge your differences when you feel like pushing for your way, and educate when you feel like escalating.” Getting Past No, 160.

  3. Go to the Balcony

    “The first step is not to control the other person’s behavior. It is to control your own. When the other person says no or launches an attack, you may be stunned into giving in or counterattacking. Instead of getting mad or even, focus on getting what you want. Don’t react: Go to the balcony.” Getting Past No, 169. Ury quotes Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

  4. Step to Their Side

    “They expect you to attack or resist. So do the opposite. Listen to them, acknowledge their points, and agree with them wherever you can. Acknowledge their authority and competence too. Don’t argue: Step to their side.” Getting Past No, p. 169.

    Reframe what they say and ask questions such as, “Why is it that you want that?” or “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” “Rather than trying to teach the other side yourself, let the problem be their teacher. Don’t reject: Reframe.” Getting Past No, p. 170.

  5. Use Power to Educate

    “If the other side still resists and thinks they can win without negotiating, you need to educate them to the contrary. Educate them about the costs of not agreeing. Ask reality-testing questions, warn rather than threaten, and demonstrate your BATNA. Don’t escalate: Use power to educate.” Getting Past No, pp. 170,171.

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