Being able to handle conflict is important to both our personal and professional lives. Conflict in varying degrees occurs daily. Whether it is dealing with a child or with someone you work with, being able to address the issues means being able to calm participants and reach an agreement. Some things to keep in mind when trying to deal with conflict:
- Ask each participant to try to understand the others’ perspective; exchange lists, information or paraphrase what the other is saying. Basically make sure everyone is clear on the points of disagreement. Sometimes conflict results from different styles of communication or choice of words. It isn’t about the facts, but the perceptions in some cases.
- Have each “side” clarify their level of understanding through questioning, A few well-thought-out questions can shed light on to unclear issues.
- Develop the ability to admit to being wrong in a situation. Find a way that saves face for the individual. Build a culture where admitting you are wrong is respected.
- Value the individual expertise of each participant; mutual respect will go a long way in finding a compromise or solution.
- Work out an agreement—even if it is to agree to disagree. Resolve the tension and emotions, even when a situation can’t be changed. Compromises are one solution to seek, but not every situation will have an acceptable compromise from the individual, customer, or business perspective.
- Most of all make sure that each participant has a time to be heard without interruption or challenges.
- Lead by example: How you as a leader deal with conflict will set a pattern or expectation of how the organization and its members need to act.
- Keep comments and feedback about actions.
- Be fair in mediating the situation. You are the referee establishing boundaries and a level playing field for communication to take place. Stay impartial giving each side equal time and calling timeouts for behaviors or comments that are out of bounds.
- Understand how to use conflict to gain new insights and perspectives on issues.
- Conflict isn’t to be sought out, nor is it to be quashed. Conflict can be an effective tool for moving an organization or team out of existing boundaries, comfort zones and thought patterns.
- Sometimes the addition of a new player to the team shakes up the status quo just enough to give it new life and purpose. I have experienced having a new person added to the mix. I have seen teams that were anything but teams, unite when “threatened” with the new member. Not the best strategy or result, but it does generate forward progress.
The biggest asset to dealing with conflict that an individual leader can have is the ability to truly hear what others are saying. As a listener, make sure that you don’t fall into the following traps:
o Agree with what is being said just to get the conversation over with. The speaker will usually catch on to the subtle signals you send out. This will lead to more conflict and feelings of disrespect.
o Think about other things personal or business. By tuning out distractions and actively listening, you can reduce the total amount of time dedicated to the situation. You tend to get the message the first time it is communicated when you truly hear what is being said.
o Think you know what is going to be said. Anticipation means you are only hearing yourself, not what the other person is saying. Pay attention to the speaker, not to your internal conversations.
o Answer first, listen never. This is when we “rehearse” in our head what we are going to say while the speaker is still talking. We are actually responding to what we anticipate is going to be said…essentially we are talking to ourselves at this point.
o Listen selectively. The speaker speaks and you hear what you want to hear based upon your own agenda and experience.
o Fixate on the speaker, not the words. Ever get distracted by a mannerism, accent or something personal about a speaker? Don’t miss the message by concentrating on the messenger.
o Change the topic. Changing to another topic indicates that you either didn’t hear the message or that you don’t value the content. Finish the communication underway, before starting another.
o Experience the experience. We’re all guilty of “I know just what you mean, when I was…” While you are trying to relate the situation to something you understand, realize that no two situations are alike and you need to deal with the current situation. There may be parallels, but keep the stories for another time.
Let the discussion be about the facts and resolution. The more focused your attention is on the situation, the faster you can resolve the issues.