Skip to main content
Health Sciences
SFU Student

empty
People talking
The next time you find yourself in a conflict situation, you might want to consider taking some pointers from the Issue-Based Problem-Solving method.

Most of us, at one point or another—whether at work, school, or with family and friends—have been in a situation where differences in values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires have lead to disagreements.  Often these disagreements work themselves out, but sometimes they can result in more severe conflicts or disputes.

It’s crucial to learn how to handle conflicts that arise, as mismanaged disputes can lead to damaged relationships. However, when handled appropriately and positively, conflicts can provide opportunities to strengthen relationships, facilitate personal growth, and foster productivity in the workplace. 

Disputes and conflicts should be dealt sooner rather than later. Early intervention prevents relationships from being permanently damaged by addressing problems as they emerge, providing objectivity to an issue, deescalating tension, spurring problem-solving options, and negotiating solutions or compromises. While there are various theories and approaches out there when it comes to conflict resolution, Issue-Based Problem-Solving, initially developed at Harvard University, is the most widely used. 

The next time you find yourself in a conflict situation, you might want to consider taking some pointers from the Issue-Based Problem-Solving method. Here’s what it looks like:

To Prepare: Request a meeting with all involved, outlining the purpose (reason for the meeting), time (suitable time for both parties), and place (convenient and private). Before the meeting, take time to consider the opposing viewpoint, as well as your own. Try and see the issue from the other party’s perspective. Then, take on this problem solving approach:

1. Exploring the issue(s).

  • Separate the person from the problem.

  • Focus on the problem itself and not solely on the individual.

  • Use concrete examples to describe the issue.

  • Take time to explore the problem and issue.

2. Understanding the various interests.

  • There’s a difference between an interest and a position (interests explain why someone cares about an issue).

  • Focus on understanding the competing interests, rather than positions.

  • The right solution will satisfy most interests.

3. Developing probable options.

  • Brainstorm.

  • Ask for ideas.

  • Merge similar options.

  • Don’t judge options, until all ideas are on the table. 

4. Choosing a solution.

  • Measure and compare the options taking into consideration interests, resources, and saleability (who needs to buy in?).

5. Implementing the solution.

  • Prepare a plan for action, including checkpoints and individual responsibilities.

  • Consider feedback mechanisms (e.g. feedback boxes or performance appraisals).

6. Evaluating the outcome(s)

  • Try to evaluate or measure the success of the solution, making sure to address the following: components to be measured; individuals to be evaluated; potential remedies for problems that may arise.

Keep in mind to respect the opinions and views of others. Use active listening skills and ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation and discussion. Successful dispute resolution not only requires managing and dissipating of problematic issues, but also urges parties to establish positive post-conflict relationships.

Knowledge of dispute resolution methods can be a vital component in your arsenal of professional skills. The above method is not meant to be a comprehensive review of all theories and approaches in resolving problems and conflicts, but rather a simplified overview. 

Dispute resolution is an emerging field, with numerous programs and classes offered at the undergraduate and graduate level. The method, tips, and suggestions in this post have been adapted from the Government of Alberta’s guide to conflict resolution, Let’s talk: A guide to resolving workplace conflicts. Click here to read the whole document (pdf).

SFU Student
Evren DeSousa is a Career Peer Educator with SFU Career Services, and is currently studying Health Sciences and Counselling & Human Development. He aspires to work in public health or academic counselling, and when not studying or volunteering, can probably be found in nature - either in person or with David Attenborough narrating.

You Might Like These... During the Work Term, Professional Development, Workplace Success, Workplace Transition, Communication

Co-op coordinator wth student during site visit
Make the Most of Your Co-op Site Visits

Your Co-op Coordinator, supervisor, and you in the same room -- time for a site visit! Co-op site visits are a time for reflection on your work term including what could be improved and what has been great so far.

person with their head in a book
Responsibility and Success

One of the most memorable parts of my time in co-op was the collection of accidents, errors, mistakes, and mix-ups that happened in the course of working in the laboratory.

 

grey paper bag spilling peanuts with the words "pay packet" written on it
Salary and Benefits: What you Need to Know

Calling all job seekers. If salary and benefits are important to you, learn the art of negotiation while discovering what compensation packages include and what to ask when the time comes to negotiate for them.

You Might Like These... Community Engagement

group of three students having a discussion
SFU Student Marketing Association (SMA)

In the second part of her series, Emily highlights the Student Marketing Association and how they help students connect with the exciting field of Marketing!

two women writing on the white board
Performance Interviews

In this edition of Interview Types, Elizabeth discusses Performance Interviews. It can be intimidating to showcase your skills on the spot, which is why in this blog, Elizabeth looks at the good, the bad and the helpful, as well as potential questions you may face. 

Person typing on their laptop
Did your Co-op Term Confirm your Career Path? It’s Okay If It Didn’t.

If you are anything like me, one reason that you might have applied for Co-op was because of the many success stories that you've read and heard about. While these stories can be so inspiring and motivating, I have realized that it’s also important to remember that it’s okay to come out of a Co-op term still unsure of what you may want to do. Continue reading to learn about what I learned after my first Co-op work term.