When working with kids, parents, volunteers, other staff most of our problems begin with a breakdown in communication.  Dr. Alan Godwin, a practicing psychologist certified in Alternative Dispute Resolution, writes in his book, “How to Solve Your People Problems” that when in conflict there are typically four types of problems we encounter and knowing which one we are dealing with is half the battle.

He says, “Pay attention the next time you’re in an argument or hear an argument.  You’ll probably notice at least four types of conflict problems:

  • Preference Problems.  These problems result from actual differences.  One person prefers to do it one way, and the other person prefers to do it another way.  The differences of opinion may be significant or trivial.
  • Perception Problems.  These problems result from perceived differences.  One person inaccurately attributes meaning to the words or actions of the other person.
  • Process Problems.  These problems result from falling into the trap of bad conflict, such as buttons getting pushed, reactions taking over, and pushing the other’s buttons.  For instance, in the middle of a conversation, one person pushes the other person’s button by being sarcastic.  Suddenly the argument now involves two topics – the original issue plus a new one, the person’s sarcasm.
  • Pressure Problems.  These are circumstances that make solving conflict problems more difficult.  Pressures from outside the relationship drain the time and energy needed to solve problems inside the relationship.  For instance, some couples are so pressured by limited time that they never sit down and work things through.  Other examples of pressure problems include financial difficulties, health problems, fatigue, and lack of privacy.

We solve perception problems by clearing up misperceptions.  We solve process problems by restricting our buttons, responding rather than reacting, and refraining from pushing buttons.  We solve pressure problems by acknowledging their effects and making the necessary adjustments.  Preference problems are solved by answering five questions.”

  1. Which problem am I trying to fix?
  2. Why do I feel so strongly?
  3. How can we agree to fix this?
  4. What will we do to implement it?
  5. When will we evaluate it?

This has been a great framework for personal and professional use for addressing conflict.  Experts tell us that conflict is healthy and should be expected but rarely has a prescription for dealing with it been so concisely.