A Lawyer’s Advice for Resolving Conflict

There are very few people who like conflict. Most of us avoid it like the plague. But as I’ve learned in my more than 20 years of practicing law, occasional disputes are inevitable, and we need to know how to move past them. That starts with resolving conflicts rather than perpetuating them.

So, how do we do that? By shifting our mindsets and setting clear end goals.

All of us have had the experience of getting “stuck” in a tense disagreement, where it seems there is no acceptable resolution, and the ongoing stress of it is eating us alive. Most conflicts in my practice stall when the client is not clear on the ultimate objective. 

This may seem simplistic. You might think, “We wanted to beat the other person who was in the wrong!” But is that really our aim? We really wanted something longer-term and more important than just beating the other side.

Let’s say we have a house we rent out to tenants, and we have a tenant who moved out and left the place a mess, including damage not covered by a security deposit. This is particularly infuriating and personal because we went out of our way to help this tenant on many occasions. This is where we can be led astray because if we are not clear on our goal, we might focus on our emotions and exclude other, more important aspects of the conflict.

We might be so angry that we initiate a lawsuit against our former tenant and spend thousands of dollars to get a judgment that we will never collect. Now, we’re $5,000 in the hole instead of the $500 the tenant initially owed. Real, legitimate and justified emotions carried us away. That’s because we didn’t set a clear target. 

Ultimately, our goal was to prevent being in this position again. Instead of initiating the lawsuit, we could have focused our energy on revamping our rental practices or charging higher security deposits. Sometimes our aim can evolve while resolving a conflict, and we might decide to go in another direction entirely, like selling our rental property or hiring a property manager. 

Conflicts are bound to happen. It’s how we respond to them that matters. The next time we’re “stuck” in a dispute that seems to have no end, we should take a step back and truly consider what we are trying to accomplish. Keeping our goal in mind will guide our decision-making so we can better focus our efforts. We may even find that the resolution is right in front of us.


Erika Gee is a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings, one of Arkansas’ largest and oldest law firms. A member of the government relations practice and the leader of the cannabis law team, she represents and assists clients in resolving regulatory and administrative disputes, as well as in advocacy and policy development matters. She is the former chief of staff and chief deputy in the Arkansas Attorney General’s office. 


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