How to Settle a Dispute Quickly

Arguments arise for countless reasons—miscommunication, jealousy, disrespect, conflicting world views, etc.—and a precious few people possess the skills necessary for diffusing potentially hostile confrontations. Whether the disagreement is between a married couple or among departments in a corporate structure, mediators of conflict face a difficult task. Having conflict resolution training can save you a lot of time.

Below are some simple techniques for quickly settling disputes, and although these apply specifically to mediation between two individuals, you'll find much of it can be applied to larger-scale, group confrontations.

It's been suggested that international confrontations are often the result of two nations simply misunderstanding the motives of the other. The same can be said for people.

The ideal outcome of any personal dispute is of course the "win/win" scenario, in which the needs of both sides of the argument are met. The only way to get there, though, is if everyone involved understands what is important to the other. Honesty is crucial here, as arguments are often the result of individuals (family members, co-workers, etc.) bottling up frustration and not making it clear that they wish for some sort of change.

A healthy resolve requires that these truths come out once the discussion begins. Encourage both sides to be honest about their frustrations, and give plenty of follow-up questions when someone's point seems like it might be at the core of the disagreement.

Also, take on one issue at a time. If there are multiple tiers of disagreement between two parties, don't move on to a new issue until the first has been fully discussed by both.

It goes without saying that judgmental language should be avoided, but it's not always easy to know what will subtly offend someone. A mediator who comes across as patronizing or condescending certainly won't help the situation. It is recommended, however (and in no way condescending), to voice your appreciation when someone is honest about their frustrations: "Thanks for telling me. I think I get where you're coming from now."

Nonverbal communication can also greatly affect which path the discussion takes. Good eye contact and a non-threatening posture are essential etiquette when keeping a situation from escalation.

Don't allow the argument to focus too much on the past. This is usually a point in the conversation where people start butting heads, so try to shift the conversation toward a possible future goal. Acknowledge the areas in which there is agreement, and emphasize this as a sign that compromise can be reached.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a verbally aggressive argument, it is best to play the part of active listener and allow the aggressor to calm him or herself by releasing their full discomfort with the situation. People typically resort to yelling is because they think no one is really listening to them, so it is recommended that you let both sides of the argument know that their points are valid, even if you are personally biased.

Making both sides of an argument laugh can greatly lessen tension and encourage productive dialog. One of the main reasons people rely on personal attacks and judgmental language is that they are undergoing stress. The key here is to get them to laugh with each other—and not at each other.