12 top tips for Dispute Resolution
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12 top tips for Dispute Resolution

Outward Bound programmes help young people learn how to work better as a team. Part of this is learning how to sort out a disagreement. It can be a steep learning curve, but an important one!


Nick Rhys - a senior instructor at Outward Bound, has provided 12 top tips to help resolve those conflicts that might disrupt your adventures, leaving space for you and your team, be those friends, family or even strangers to enjoy the great outdoors.

1. Big issues deserve a big response

A dispute is fully justified where it’s a big issue. For example when encountering racism, sexism, social injustice or discussions surrounding the environment. The problem is that big issues can get lost in the noise of unnecessary disputes.

In contrast, little things deserve a little response. I’ve had groups in meltdown over a missing spoon! To try and work out if it is a small issue, I often ask participants, 'will this matter in a week’s time?' When I ask myself the same question, I often realise it won’t matter after I’ve had a cup of tea!

Ask yourself - will this matter in a week’s time?
2. The value of a pause

Many things don’t need an immediate response as these can often be fuelled by emotion. Simply pausing for a few seconds can help keep the issue in perspective. It can be easy to get caught up in the frustrations of the people around you, but taking a pause can be a useful tool to avoid taking on their emotions.

3. How to de-escalate

Telling someone to ‘calm down’ is an excellent way to wind them up! It is far more effective to demonstrate behaviours that they can use to calm down.

You could: sit down, lower the volume, become conscious of your tone and body language, stop to breathe, spend a minute doing something unrelated (eg have a drink or snack), stroke a dog (not always practical!), walk around.

Better yet, by noticing red flag behaviours you can prevent conflict before it arises. If it seems as though the atmosphere is becoming louder and more energised, this is a major red flag. It’s worth emphasising that these behaviours will be a conscious choice, and it can be difficult to make the right one.

4. Be a role model

It is worth remembering that what you do is far more powerful than what you say. Actions are more powerful than words. You aren’t faking zen-like perfection, what you are trying to show is that you are actively striving to reduce conflict and promote positive discussion.

what you do is far more powerful than what you say
5. Know your triggers

We all have things which really stress us out! Recognising them is part of self-development and developing maturity. It’s worth actively considering whether you’re annoyed by the immediate situation or if it’s just reminded you of something totally unrelated. Understanding this can help you be much fairer to the people around you.

6. Understanding does not equal agreement

It’s often worth highlighting that you can completely understand someone’s position and thoughts on something without actually agreeing with them. Having this skill is essential to forming a dialogue. As part of this process, asking clarifying questions to ensure you genuinely understand is a great habit to get into.

The most successful conversations are often those where someone builds on a previous comment to improve it, and you just might learn something along the way.

7. Commonality

There is always some common ground. For example, where two people are passionately arguing over immigration, both of those people share the opinion that immigration is an important issue which should be discussed. Build on that and find common ground throughout.

There is always some common ground, find it and build on it
8. TV shows are often a very poor guide!

Shows like The Apprentice are all about drama, rather than being a model for life.

Social media is also a terrible guide!

Simply exchanging opinions is not productive discussion. Social media often uses conflict to promote engagement and keep it relevant.

Politics is an even worse guide!

News outlets will often use sound bites from politicians to gain attention, rather than to create quality arguments or positive outcomes.

9. Evidence, evidence, evidence!

Always consider the facts. This usually leads to a higher quality discussion, as opposed to basing disputes on opinions and feelings.

10. Apologise - and mean it

If you apologise, do it genuinely and do it fully. A politician style, cop-out apology will only make things worse!

11. Strength

Agreeing to disagree and move on is a massive sign of strength and a very useful life skill.

12. What's in it for you?

It’s worth thinking about what you and the people around you would gain from resolving disputes. Remember that none of us are perfect, but this is about trying to improve a valuable life skill, and reducing stress along the way!

think about what you'll gain from solving the dispute - and remember, nobody is perfect!

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