In Conflict – Critical Questions to Ask

Asking the Right Questions

When facing a conflict (whether you’re a participant or a mediator), it’s important to ask the right questions in order to solve the problem and come to a resolution. Sometimes, people don’t even understand exactly what the issues are or they think they do and assume incorrectly, which only causes more problems for everyone.

For these reasons, it’s important to have some critical questions ready in order to define the problem, identify the ultimate goal or outcome, and how to reach a solution or compromise.

Define the Problem

This may seem like an obvious point but there are situations in which people are arguing over two completely different things without realizing it. Here are some questions to help you define the problem:

  • Is the problem an actual conflict or is it a symptom of something else?
  • What are the parameters of the problem?
  • Is something being overlooked that could be the actual problem or adding to the first issue?
  • Is there an elephant in the room (a glaring issue that no one is addressing)?
  • Are certain issues being avoided by the participants? Why are those specific points being avoided?
  • Are the participants debating about a solution without having defined the problem?

Identify the Ultimate Goal or Outcome

Once the problem is clearly defined and the participants are on the same page, the next step is to figure out the goal or outcome so that everyone can be working toward that.

  • What is the best outcome for the conflict?
  • Does everyone agree on the ultimate goal? Or is the goal just a piece of the puzzle toward walking toward a larger goal?
  • Is the goal going to be attainable for all participants involved?
  • Is the goal going to be agreeable for all participants involved?

How to Reach a Solution or Compromise

Now that you’ve defined the problem and established the ultimate goal of the argument, it’s time to get working on a solution. This can end up being contentious if people let their emotions control them so it’s important to keep everyone calm and collected.

  • What does everyone agree on? (There always has to be some amount of common ground that all participants can agree on.)
  • Is everyone being respectful of other people?
  • Which participants are facilitating the solution process? Which participants are creating obstacles to reaching a solution?
  • Is anyone not participating in the debate? Why aren’t they speaking up?
  • Is one participant commanding the conversation and not allowing others to bring up their points?

It may seem like a lot of questions, but you’ll find that the more questions that are asked, the clearer the problem becomes. It’s almost impossible to solve a problem if people aren’t even clear on what the real issue is. By using the above questions, you’ll be able to resolve conflict without having to deal with a number of other potential problems.

About the author