Dealing with conflict can be one of the most challenging aspects of communication even for the most skilled communicators. It is by far the topic I am most frequently asked about during my programs and presentations. For many people, the mere thought of conflict causes a lot of stress and some will go to any lengths to avoid it. Unfortunately, avoiding conflict can result in more damage than the conflict itself.
Dealing effectively with conflict or potential conflict can be stress-free when you employ the strategies presented in this article. When dealing with conflict or potential conflict face to face communication is recommended. In general, the communication should not be done via email.
Note: The strategies outlined in this article are intended for mild to moderate conflicts. In the event of “bullying” or other types of aggressive, intimidating behaviors additional strategies may be required (i.e. third party intervention, etc.). Prior to utilizing any strategy, one should consider their personal safety first and foremost.
First, be clear about the outcome you want to achieve with the communication. Take time to think through what would be an acceptable result. It is important to have a clear goal so you don’t get sidetracked. Keep this goal or outcome in the forefront as you proceed through the following strategies.
Second, identify any opinions or beliefs you have about the person (or people) you are communicating with that could negatively influence your communication with them. Ask yourself, “What opinion would I be willing to let go of in order to achieve the desired outcome?” Any negative opinions you hold onto will exacerbate any conflict. For example, if you believe the person is stubborn, uncooperative, etc., it will effect how you speak to them including the words you choose and what you say or don’t say. This will likely instigate the very behaviors you are trying to avoid.
Third, speak to the highest good of the person. Said another way, give them the benefit of the doubt. In other words, instead of thinking diminishing thoughts think the best of the person. Reframe from destructive to constructive; stubborn becomes passionate, uncooperative becomes independent. Reframing will help you to approach the person as an asset rather than a hindrance.
Fourth, stick to the facts of the situation as opposed to your conclusions. For example, “ I noticed you were late three times last week” (Facts) Vs. “You seem distracted or disengaged” (Conclusion). Your conclusions could be completely wrong and if you start with them it could lead to the other person being defensive, increasing the likelihood of conflict. The facts are what actually happened or is happening. Facts are not usually the source of the conflict. Whatever happened, happened – it’s the differing explanations about the facts that lead to trouble.
Lastly, be genuinely curious and willing to learn about their perspective and what’s important to them. If you approach a potential conflict from curiosity you will see much different results than if you approach it from already knowing the answer. Just think about the last conversation you had with a “know-it-all.” How was that for you? Likely, it was frustrating and left you upset. Approaching a potential conflict as if you already have all the answers will leave the other person feeling the same way. Instead, assume you don’t know it all, that your solution is one possible way to deal with the situation… not the only way. Get curious about what’s important to them and how they would like it to be.
Using these strategies will significantly enhance your communication effectiveness in any situation and in particular will help you be better equipped to successfully handle conflicts.