Methods of conflict resolution is a quick line in the ASWB exam content outline, but there's more than a quick line's worth of knowledge to familiarize yourself with ahead of the social work licensing exam. Let's review conflict resolution in social work, more generally, and look at ways this content may show up on the test.

Conflict Resolution in Social Work

Social workers  employ a range of methods to address conflicts. Some methods of conflict resolution specifically relevant to social work:

  • Mediation:
    • Social workers may act as mediators to facilitate communication and negotiation between individuals or within families. Mediation can help resolve conflicts related to family dynamics, parenting, or community issues.
    • The social worker, as a neutral third party, guides the conversation, helps parties understand each other's perspectives, and supports the development of mutually acceptable solutions.
  • Family Group Conferencing:
    • Particularly used in child welfare and family services, family group conferencing involves bringing together family members, extended relatives, and relevant professionals to discuss and make decisions about a child's welfare.
    • Empowers families to actively participate in decision-making, promoting collaboration and ensuring that the solutions are informed by the family's values.
  • Crisis Intervention:
    • Social workers often intervene in crisis situations, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health crises, to de-escalate conflicts and ensure immediate safety.
    • Crisis intervention focuses on stabilizing the situation, providing support, and connecting individuals with appropriate resources and services.
  • Restorative Justice:
    • Restorative justice practices emphasize repairing harm and rebuilding relationships. Social workers may incorporate restorative approaches in cases involving juvenile justice, schools, or community conflicts.
    • The process involves bringing together those harmed and those responsible, facilitating dialogue, and developing plans for restitution and rehabilitation.
  • Community Organizing:
    • Social workers engaged in community organizing work to address systemic issues and conflicts within communities. This may involve mobilizing residents, facilitating community meetings, and advocating for social change.
    • By empowering communities to identify and address their own concerns, social workers contribute to sustainable solutions and the development of community cohesion.
  • Advocacy:
    • Advocacy involves representing the interests of individuals or groups who may be marginalized or facing injustice. Social workers advocate for clients within systems and institutions to address conflicts related to discrimination, access to resources, or rights violations.
    • Social workers use their influence and expertise to bring about systemic change and ensure that clients' voices are heard.

In social work, the choice of conflict resolution method depends on the nature of the conflict, the needs of the individuals involved, and the broader social context. Social workers often employ a combination of these methods to create comprehensive, sustainable solutions.

General Conflict Resolution

There are several general approaches to resolving conflicts. Here are some common methods of conflict resolution:

  • Negotiation:
    • Parties involved in a conflict communicate with each other to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
    • Requires good communication skills, empathy, and a willingness to compromise. The goal is to find a solution that satisfies the interests of all parties.
  • Mediation:
    • Third-party facilitated communication between conflicting parties. (See above.)
  • Arbitration:
    • Arbitration is a more formal process where a neutral third party, the arbitrator, makes a decision to resolve the conflict.
    • The decision of the arbitrator is binding or non-binding, depending on the agreement of the parties. It is often used in legal or contractual disputes.
  • Collaboration:
    • Collaboration involves the parties working together to find a mutually beneficial solution. It requires open communication and a focus on common goals.
    • Emphasizes teamwork and a shared commitment to finding a solution that addresses the underlying interests of all parties.
  • Avoidance:
    • Sometimes, conflicts are best resolved by avoiding the issue altogether. This may be a temporary solution, but it can be appropriate in certain situations.
    • Parties may choose to ignore the conflict, especially if addressing it could lead to more harm than good.
  • Accommodation:
    • In some cases, one party may choose to yield to the interests of the other. This can be a conscious decision to maintain harmony or for strategic reasons.
    • Involves a willingness to sacrifice one's own interests for the sake of maintaining relationships or avoiding escalation.
  • Competition:
    • This approach involves pursuing one's own interests at the expense of others. It is more assertive and less cooperative.
    • While competing may lead to quick decisions, it can also damage relationships. It is suitable in situations where quick and decisive action is necessary. Competition can be as simple as a game of rock, paper, scissors…or much more complicated.
  • Compromise:
    • Compromise involves each party giving up something to meet in the middle. It's a middle-ground solution where neither party gets everything they want.
    • Requires a willingness to make concessions and find a solution that is acceptable, if not ideal, to all parties.

Conflict Resolution on the ASWB Exam

How might this look on the exam? Probably something in vignette form like this:

  • A social worker is working with a family in which there is ongoing conflict between a parent and a teenager. The parent insists on strict rules and discipline, while the teenager feels misunderstood and restricted. What is the most appropriate initial step for the social worker to take in resolving this conflict?
  • A social worker is involved in a community organizing project aimed at addressing systemic issues contributing to community conflict. What is a key strategy the social worker can use to promote positive change?
  • A social worker is supervising a team where conflicts among team members are affecting the overall work environment. What is an appropriate role for the supervisor in resolving these conflicts?

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November 13, 2023
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