Disagreements and disputes inevitably occur - from friction with co-workers to arguments with family members and significant others.

Questions about how to resolve conflicts regarding organization development and culture issues, customer service problems, or struggling sales often surface when working with clients. Enter the E-R-I approach.

The E-R-I model - which stands for emotions, reason, and intuition - uses a step-by-step approach to help you think about ways to resolve a problem. It also offers techniques for making decisions that are suitable for any situation.

Emotions

To resolve any conflict you first have to rid the situation of any negative emotions, such as feelings of anger, resentment, mistrust, or fear. Whether these are your own feelings or those of others, you need to channel emotions to keep them from interfering with the conflict resolution.

Once negative emotions are under control or dissipated, you can work on resolving the problem in a calm and collected way. Otherwise, as often happens during a difficult situation, people tend to strike out verbally and stir emotions, which can make the problem even more difficult to solve.

There are a number of techniques you can use to control or diffuse escalating emotions. One option is to listen calmly and let the other person vent - like letting a steam kettle release its steam.

For example, a client has mistaken a program date but still expects you to conduct the course when you have other commitments. You don't have to agree that you made a mistake, merely listen and make it clear that you sympathize. Later, when emotions are calm, you can deal with the issue in a reasonable fashion and look for solutions, such as helping find an alternate program for that day and rescheduling your program for a later date.

Another approach is to initially avoid or delay dealing with the problem. In other words, take a time-out. This solution allows time for those who are upset or angry to gain their composure, as well as time to gather vital information.

For instance, you might schedule a resolution meeting with the person in the previous scenario, indicating you would like time to gather information and perhaps even correct the problem before your discussion. Maybe you can rearrange your schedule with another client to make the program, which would be a win-win for both parties.

This approach is especially helpful when you are the one feeling angry or explosive, such as when a client or colleague accuses you of being unprofessional or is unfairly criticizing your presentation. Take time to use some self-calming techniques to control your emotions. Mentally tell yourself to relax and detach from the situation or focus your thoughts on peaceful, soothing images such as the ocean.

Another approach is to use a selftrigger, in which you associate a specific gesture, such as clicking your fingers, as your key to calm down. Practice in advance to make the association between the gesture and calm thoughts, so it becomes second nature.

Reason

The second step in E-R-I is to use reasoning techniques to better understand the conflict and discern the appropriate resolution strategies. Understanding is critical because conflict is typically the result of poor communication, lack of information, false assumptions, differing personality styles, or conflicting interests, needs, and values.

Through understanding, you can better recognize the actual problem, enabling you to more effectively work toward a solution. Reasoning involves knowing multiple approaches for resolving a conflict and choosing the best strategy to use in a particular situation. It's like having a bag of conflict resolution tricks that you can pull out and use when needed.

The following reasoning styles, which are based on a test called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, have been used extensively in business management.

Competitive style. This style has you forcefully impose your will to solve a conflict. It's a useful approach when you are dealing with an important issue, have the power and authority to exercise this option, can't reach agreement among a group, or need to make a quick decision.

For example, perhaps your group is meeting to determine roles for an upcoming program, but you also have an impending deadline to deliver a PowerPoint outline to a meeting planner. The discussion is taking too long, so you simply end the meeting, make the best decision possible, and announce your plans. Always be sure to explain why you have to make a choice now and quickly put it into action.

Avoidance style. This is good to use when you want to delay dealing with a conflict. This technique enables you to gather information and assistance, as well as allows time for disgruntled parties to cool tensions. The avoiding style also works well when the issue is unimportant or you don't have the power to resolve the situation in an acceptable manner.

For example, some employees in your office are having an argument about a coworker who did or didn't do something. Rather than try to get everyone together to hash out the problem, it may be better to call a time-out while you speak to everyone individually and gather facts.

Accommodative style. This is when you give in to what someone else wants to keep peace and harmony with colleagues. This is a good approach when the issue is obviously more important to others or when you have little power to administer your preferences. It also is a good approach when a relationship is more important than the issue.

For example, a co-worker is determined to perform a particular program that you would rather not because the financial compensation is less than you typically earn. Your colleague, however, wants to do the program because of its potential for future engagements, and she is excited about the additional credits she can add to her resume. In the interest of the relationship, it may be better to simply go along with what your colleague wants.

In the future, when you are especially interested in a particular project, your colleague may be willing to go along with your choice. This style is akin to doing a favor now so your associate will be eager to return the favor in the future.

Collaborative style. This style works well when you have an issue that is important to all parties and you are working toward a resolution with people who have equal power or are willing to put aside power differences. This style also works well when you have a continuing interdependent relationship and everyone is willing to spend the time and effort on achieving a resolution.

For example, this might be a good approach when there are conflicts among employees you manage and it would be better to work out a new way of structuring the group to work more harmoniously and productively.

Compromising style. This is a useful approach when each person can give a little, and you want a quick resolution for a short-term gain. This style also is helpful when other approaches fail and any resolution seems better than no solution at all.

For example, you may accept a lower speaking fee because there are other potential benefits, such as earning money from selling books after the program.

Intuition

The final step in the process is to use your intuition. The intuition phase has you brainstorm new possibilities and alternatives for resolving a conflict, and intuitively decide the best approach to use in a particular situation. Before you draw on your intuition, it is important to get emotions out of the way, understand the situation, and recognize how you might use the various conflict resolution approaches.

Because the reasoning alternatives provide a range of solutions, be sure to use your intuition to help you decide the best choice for you. You can use assorted methods to help you access your intuition, such as visualization and mind-power techniques. Let your intuition, which may come to you as a sense of knowing or gut feeling, help you find win-win solutions.