Conflict Resolution


Sometimes schools assume all conflicts are destructive, have no value and try to suppress, avoid, and deny their existence. Conflicts occur all the time: who to sit by at lunch, what game to play at recess, when to get on task, when to play, when to talk, when to be quiet, when to listen, and who is going to do what.

Some schools recognize conflicts as inevitable, healthy and valuable; not as problems but as solutions and learn to manage conflict constructively.

Conflicts happen when incompatible solutions are sought. Since long-term relationships are important, people and schools must manage conflicts and maintain positive relationships.

Strategies to manage conflict

Problem-Solving Negotiation: Seek solutions to ensure all parties achieve their goals and resolve any tensions or negative feelings between them.

Smoothing: party gives up its goal to maintain the relationship at the highest possible level. Saying I'm sorry doesn't mean I'm wrong. It let's the other person know you are sorry about the situation when the goal is less important than the relationship.

Forcing a Win-Lose Negotiation: A party seeks to achieve its goal by forcing or persuading the other party to yield their goal. Strategies include threats, imposing penalties, preemptive actions to resolve without others knowledge or permission, persuasive arguments, impose a deadline, commit yourself to an unalterable position, and make demands that far exceed what is actually acceptable. The last strategy begins with an extreme opening position, and follows with a slow rate of compromise in an attempt to force the other party to concede. This strategy can be supplemented with persuasive arguments, threats, and attacks aimed at overpowering, overwhelming, or intimidating others. The purpose is to achieve the goal without concern for the needs or feelings of the other. The harder a party is pushed to give in, the harder the other person will push back. The more you force, the more the other resists and the angrier the other person becomes. When forcing is successful, winning may result in a sense of pride and achievement. When unsuccessful, it may result in depression, guilt, shame, and failure. It causes a high price of alienation and starts a spiral of win-lose tactics. Use when the goal is highly important and the relationship is not.

Compromise: Each person or group alters their goal toward the others goal. Methods to help people compromise are to split the difference, meet in the middle, flip a coin, or let chance decide. Use when the goal and the relationship are moderately important and you and the other person cannot seem to get what each want. Each gives up part of a goal and sacrifices part of the relationship to reach an agreement. Compromise when time is short, Sometimes half a loaf is better than none. Use when the goal is not important and you do not need to keep a relationship with the other person.

Withdraw: Leave, give up, avoid the issue and the person.

Conflict becomes destructive when it's denied, suppressed, or avoided resulting in anger, fights, physical dominance, harassment, verbal attack, physical abuse, giving in, or cold shoulders. These actions do not resolve conflicts for benefit to all participants and instead result in alienating people.

Conflict Resolution Outcomes

Lose - Lose

Win - Lose

Win - Win

Both participants lose their original goal and attain something less.

One participant wins at the other's expense.

All participants achieve their goals.

Participants are angry, resentful, hurtful, and distrustful.

Participants are angry, resentful, hurtful, and distrustful. One participant may feel power, pride, and/or achievement while the other may feel depression, guilt, shame, hurt, failure, resentful, and/or angry.

Participants like, respect, and trust each other more.

Possibility of constructively resolving future conflicts with each other decreases.

Possibility of constructively resolving future conflicts with each other decreases.

Potential is increased to resolve future conflicts constructively.


Benefits for people who engage in problem solving conflict management:

  1. creatively solve problems
  2. learn about what makes them angry
  3. understand what frightens them
  4. maturity
  5. be energized
  6. to be stimulated and enjoy solving a problem or competing<
  7. increase motivation to learn
  8. arouse intellectual curiosity
  9. deepen relationships<
  10. strengthen convictions
  11. create improved interpersonal relationships
  12. improve negotiating skills
  13. improve self-confidence
  14. improve achievement
  15. improve reasoning
  16. better able to deal with stress and understand what is important to them
  17. become less egocentric
  18. gain and hold attention of others
  19. improve the quality of decisions<
  20. create joint identity and cohesiveness

Conflict Resolution as Problem Solving

Definitions of Terms




Desire for something.


Necessity for survival.


Ideal state that we value and work to achieve.


Potential benefit to be gained by achieving goals.

Conflict of interest

A situation in which the actions of one person interfere with or block those of another person attempting to reach a goal.


Characteristics of a problem solving conflict resolution environment:

General suggestions for creating a positive problem solving environment:

Face the issue. Do not withdraw from or ignore a conflict. If you do, in addition to damaging the relationship, you will keep emotional energy tied up in anger, fear, resentment, hostility, dislike, sulkiness, uncooperativeness, sarcasm, or talking behind the other person's back and new conflicts will be linked with the old to create further costs.

Be honest. Generally the stronger the relationship, the more direct and open the discussion can be.

Focus on the problem not the person. Keep the discussion free of personal criticism, recriminations, abusive language, and especially subtle jibes that inflict pain. Make it clear that disagreement is with the ideas and actions and not a value of the person. Separate the criticism of actions and ideas from the idea that the rejection is a statement of value of a person. Keep a sense of humor. Keep all weapons out of reach. No one hurts another. Protect each other's ego. Provide acceptable reasons for people to switch viewpoints.

Use Humor

Six Step Problem Solving to Resolve a Conflict

Students can be taught Problem Solving techniques and provided with an environment for them to resolve conflicts. A carpeted space with the following list of student guidelines posted is one possibility.

Problem Solving Rug
Mediated Conflict Resolution
Strategies to overcome impasse

Teachers should weave conflict resolution procedures and skills into the fabric of school life. Examples include: follow-up lessons on improving communication skills, ways to control anger, appropriate assertiveness, problem solving skills, perspective-taking, creative thinking, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills. Integration into subjects like social studies and literature by analyzing the people or characters, their actions or inactions, world events or plots of the stories with respect to conflict and their resolution.

Conflict management training should be repeated yearly for 13 years, with an increasing level of complexity and sophistication.

References for Conflict Resolution Programs

Violence Programs Summary

Adapted from
David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson (1995)
Reducing School Violence Through Conflict Resolution ASCD


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes