Problem solving when there’s a conflict

The political situation has many folks feeling shaken up, or at least unsure of whether the progress toward recognizing everyone as deserving equal rights will continue. What we can all do is to be living examples of how we would like others to treat us. Oh, funny thing about that. It’s what Christians call “The Golden Rule,” and it’s also in all the other major religions of the world, and some kinda far out ones …

My first mediation instructor told me that if there were only two people left on Earth, helping each other survive, at some point there, a conflict would arise. Conflicts occur when two people see a situation differently, and want a different outcome. It’s at the level of ego, not soul. But since everyone wearing a body, and thinking with a brain as an ego, we need to be able to problem solve when conflicts arise.

“Problem solving” is the way I’m referring to conflict resolution these days. Yes, the idea is to resolve an interpersonal conflict, but the way we do it is to problem solve. “Problem solving” is a lighter term than conflict resolution, and one of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” goals is for students to be good problem solvers. And as long as the students are around different people, conflicts will arise to be solved.

I’m so very happy to report that Jessie Basquez from the Kauai Economic Opportunity Mediation Program and I had the privilege of teaching 20 new high school peer mediators at Kauai High School on Nov. 10. To add icing to the cake, Keith Kitimura, nine-year peer mediation team teacher and coach, brought over at least 25 of his team of peer mediators. The veterans answered questions about mediation and showed a video of how they’ve brought the concepts of peer mediation into Kapaa High School.

Kudos to teacher Erin Medeiros for taking the team on, and kudos to the articulate empathetic students who signed up to make a difference in their school. Now every public high school has a group of students trained in interpersonal problem solving.

I also had the feedback last week that two adult community members had tried using the steps of a conflict resolution technique I wrote about and taught earlier in the year. They let me know they had great results. So I’ve decided to share them in this column, as I do periodically in different forms for different situations. The situation I’m thinking of is that there are some strong political differences that are causing conflicts, even among family members.

I think that there may be some political prejudice going on. Prejudice comes from the word prejudge. We think that all Republicans are a certain way or all Democrats one way. But when I meet a person, if I prejudge them because of their political affiliation, I won’t meet the person.

A person could be Republican and want better economic opportunities, but not believe that a certain ethnic population needs to go home. Or there may be a Democrat who is also discouraged with Obamacare and wants it modified. We need to talk to each other, and not project our thoughts and opinions on others.

Each side needs to ask questions of the other side, and look for points of agreement, which we call common ground. Do we all want great education for our children? OK, that’s a start. Do we all want quality care for the elderly? Another point of agreement. Then a person can begin to build on that.

I’ve reduced conflict resolution, or problem solving into a sturdy skeleton of steps which people can use for their own clashes, or to help others. The over-lighting idea is that they are going for a win-win, and that the problem is attacked, and not each other! Mediators don’t make the solutions. They help the disputants find them: Vòila:

I. Prepare yourself to be neutral and caring.

II. Create a safe place for people to share. It’s confidential, respectful, private. No interrupting.

III. Share the basic conflict resolution skills. Each side:

1. Tells their story,

2. How they feel, and

3. What they need.

Get t win-win by:

A. Asking how the people think they can solve their problem.

B. Brainstorming ideas- (while you write them down.)

C. Choosing the best ideas and collaborating on clear, fair, specific and do-able solutions

IV. Parties each get a copy of the agreements. Thank them for time, and cooperation.

V. Helpful ideas:

1. Ask: “If we don’t solve this here, what do you think will happen?”

2. Stop for a break or offer to meet with each side separately if it gets heated or stalled.

3. If a person acts disrespectfully, remind them to speak and listen respectfully.

4. Keep being loving and neutral.

When I lived in North Carolina, I visited an organization called “Totally Responsible Person,” now it’s “TRP Enterprises” in Winston-Salem, NC. One of their slogans was “There is no problem that love and wisdom cannot solve.” That has stayed with me, and I’ve passed it on in mediations. Now it’s a gift to you.



Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to


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