spend a good portion of my time working with CEO’s and senior leaders of small businesses. One of the primary topics we deal with together is how to effectively handle conflict. Some of the conflicts have been relatively small, but others have completely changed the landscape of their organization.
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If there’s one thing I‘ve learned over the years it’s that conflict is inevitable. It is positively unavoidable. That may sound like a defeatist attitude, but I think you know it’s true.
Three important things at this point. First, though conflict is unavoidable, too many people try to act as if it weren’t. They either falsely believe that if they just doing everything right they can avoid it. This is a delusion. Or more often, once it does raise it’s ugly head, they actually do avoid it at all cost. And the cost of avoiding can become enormous.
Second, I didn’t say that a bad outcome
was inevitable. As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that you, yes you
, can become (if you’re not already) extremely skilled at handling conflict in a way that leads to very positive outcomes on a consistent basis
Third, conflict can be a very good thing. When handled well, it leads to deeper and stronger relationships built on understanding and trust. I believe that if an organization’s leaders can learn to model and mentor skillful conflict resolution, it can become a clear competitive advantage.
Nothing I, or anyone else, can teach you will guarantee a positive outcome. You can only control your part of the conflict. However, the more skilled you become at these things, the more likely you will be to succeed and create a track record of successes.
Dive in with me as we take a brief look at six ways to handle conflict effectively.
Keys to Producing Positive Outcomes
We are going to approach this from the perspective of you being the one to initiate a difficult conversation. Most of these will still apply even if you are the one who has been confronted.
1. Prepare your own heart and mind first.
This is foundational. As I already stated, you can only control yourself in a conflict, so it is paramount that you prepare well, whenever possible. Examine your motives and clearly understand your goals. Prepare yourself to be at your very best.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself with regards to your goals for the conversation:
- What do I want for myself?
- What do I want for the other person?
- What do I want for the relationship?
I realize that you won’t always have time to do in-depth preparation, but if you make this a habit
, you can do a quick version even if you get thrust into a situation unexpectedly.
2. Create and maintain safety.
This is the first major piece of the blocking and tackling of working through conflict…no pun intended. No blocking or tackling allowed. Without this there is no meaningful forward progress. If a person doesn’t feel safe they won’t participate in an authentic way.
Whenever we sense danger we move into fight or flight mode. Neither of these mindsets leads to a productive conversation. When we feel safe, we are more likely to open up and share what we are really thinking and feeling. The authors of “Crucial Conversations
” do an excellent job of laying out both the importance of and methods for this.
Briefly, let me share the authors’ insight. You create safety by establishing a mutual, or shared, purpose
. When you identify and get acknowledgement of something that you both want it has the effect of bringing you together and putting you on common ground.
Safety is maintained by mutual respect
. If both parties continue to treat one another with dignity and respect, and the common goal is kept in sight, safety should remain and foster the right environment.
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3. Address the issue, don’t attack the person.
Be specific in naming and describing the issue as you are experiencing it. Addressing actions (behavior) is fair game, but you want to avoid attacking them or their character. This will only destroy the safety you’ve created and severely hinder progress.
One of the most common ways to stay focused on the issue is by using “I” statements. Here are some examples:
The bottom line is to address what was done or said and how that impacted you, especially if this was an isolated incident. If it is a pattern of behavior then the pattern
and its effects are the issues that needs attention. In either case you are addressing choices they are making.
4. Take ownership of your part of the issue.
It takes two to tango, as the old saying goes. There are going to be very, very rare occasions where a conflict is completely the fault of one party. Most of the time you will be able to identify some way in which you have contributed to the issue, if you are honest with yourself.
The key is to come with an attitude of humility and a willingness to take responsibility where it is appropriate. Your contribution may have been to avoid the issue. Or maybe you exacerbated the issue by the way you responded.
I am not asking you to make up things to confess or to own something that is not yours to own. However, if you fail to take any ownership, it is much more likely that the person will feel attacked.
5. Ask for their input and perspective.
Now that you have had a chance to set the table it is time to listen. Be clear and succinct with your input and then turn your attention to them. Come into the conversation, from the very beginning, with a genuine desire to understand.
I have written previously about the skills of active listening
and asking powerful questions
. This is a perfect time to implement these tools. The better you understand the other person and their perspective, the better able you will be to navigate the conversation and move it toward a positive resolution.
6. Work toward agreement.
Winning is not the goal. If we come to win, safety will never be established. That’s why we begin with establishing the win-win element. The minute someone feels as though your goal is domination or victory, they will revert to fight or flight mode (unless they have read this blog and can fight off those feelings to work toward re-establishing safety).
Pursue the win-win. This may involve some level of compromise on your part, but only compromise when you feel that it is an appropriate decision and serves the greater good. Otherwise, continue to work toward the kind of agreement that serves the win-win that you both identified at the beginning.
Conflict can be a very positive thing…if you handle it skillfully.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to conflict. However, following these steps, and becoming skilled in their use will go a long way toward creating favorable results. You cannot control the outcome. You can only control how you participate. But the way you participate can have a huge, positive impact.
I want to thank you for being a part of my blog. I especially enjoy the opportunity to interact with you when you have a comment or question. It really adds value to the whole experience.
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Question: Which of these steps will present the biggest challenge for you? [question]handle-conflict-effectively[/question]