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Conflict Resolution

Using Empathy to Reach a Common Understanding

April 10, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Conflict Resolution

It is difficult to have a sensible conversation when an individual is plainly irritated or frustrated and not in a mood to listen (or they are rightly or wrongly accusing you of actions which have undermined them in some way). We therefore need to get the whole conversation onto a calmer and more collaborative footing if we are to reach a common understanding of what is at stake and work towards sensibly resolving the conflict. To do this well we needs as much empathy as we can muster.

Empathy is crucial to conflict resolution. Empathy means stepping into the other party’s shoes and seeing their view of the conflict situation through their eyes, and not through your eyes.

Empathy can be demonstrated by paraphrasing what the person has said and reflecting back associated feelings. As such, an empathetic response might be a statement like: “So, you’re really unhappy at the moment because you think I should have done something for you this morning-is that right?” (and then genuinely waiting for conformation that you have read the situation accurately).

Showing empathy certainly does not mean making the person feel even worse about their situation than they already do. Empathy involves accurately paraphrasing and reflecting back feelings, and then asking questions about how the current situation could be changed.

Showing empathy does not mean that you agree with the other person and it does not mean that you have to accept what they are saying. It simply entails that you acknowledge the issue and any attendant frustration that goes with it, in order to suggest a reasonable course of action to deal with the situation. By doing this in a calm and reasonable way we can often diffuse a conflict situation quite quickly and get the other party to work with us to achieve the “win-win” we are looking for.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Conflict Resolution: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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