I encourage you to tackle them in four steps.
During a business lunch attended by my superiors, some colleagues and some important investors, I was the only woman. My line manager made a comment that really hurt my feelings. I couldn’t help but be affected during the rest of the lunch, my emotional state, level of engagement and respect towards my boss. I was furious!
Conflict can take many forms, words that are hurtful, direct arguments, or situations where our needs those of others clash.
Conflicts are a reality in our lives, when we least expect it they show up with a bang!
We do everything in our power to pretend that nothing has happened, that the problem doesn’t exist, like an ostrich. And before we know it the conflict grows like a snowball until it suddenly crashes on us without warning.
Conflicts don’t tend to go away. So, as we say in Spain, let’s take the bull by the horns. Its possible to resolve conflict proactively before it kicks us when we least expect it.
This doesn’t mean we need to get to it without preparation and in the heat of the moment, not at all.
Here is the method I have used many times to resolve conflicts in four steps:
- Taking precautions
It is important to take some precautions to prevent the situation getting out of hand.
Never respond to a conflict situation in the heat of the moment. When conflict surprises us and we haven’t had the chance to think, the worst thing we can do is react. It’s better to take a pause and not respond immediately.
If necessary, we can always ask the person involved some time before getting back to them.
Many of the occasions that lead to regret are those where we have let our emotions run away with us. Responding to conflict in the heat of the moment can only exacerbate the situation like adding wood to a burning fire.
People don’t tend to get up in the morning with the intention to look for conflict with others. We tend to fall into these situations unconsciously, so remembering this fact can help us step back from the incident and trying not to take it personally.
A lot has been written about how we all experience life through our own lens which is heavily affected by our circumstances, past experiences, values and beliefs. Our perception of the world is never the same as someone else´s. Things are neither black nor white, they depend on our respective interpretations.
No matter how offensive a situation may seem to us, the other person is living it through their lens, which is different to ours. Realising this can help us separate ourselves from our own narrow perspective to view it from a more objective position.
A good trick is trying to think about what is the need the other person has in pursuing that particular action, it´s also a good starting point to finding resolution.
Once we have calmed down, we are better prepared to review the situation more objectively. Organising our thoughts is a good way to help us plan that conversation with the person involved at the right time.
I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions to get to the bottom of the matter and set aside aspects that are not really important.
- Did they realise that this was a problem for me?
- What would be the consequences if I do nothing about it?
- If I could ask for help without fear of the consequences, what would I ask them?
- Why do I need these things?
- What are the alternatives?
- What are they trying to achieve?
- How can I help them?
- What would be the consequences if I face the situation and they react badly?
- And what if they react well?
This type of question can help us find solutions. A way of mutual benefit or at least prevent the situation becoming problematic in our relationship in the future.
This reflection can help answer three key questions that are important to have ready for the conversation:
- What do I need to resolve the conflict?
- How can I help them so that their situation is also resolved?
- What are the important points I´d like to make?
Always have the conversation in person. Having the opportunity to listen and react accordingly is very important.
When we treat sensitive topics in writing we loose the opportunity to adapt our perspective or the words we use according to the other person´s reaction. We also waste the opportunity to use communication tools we have such as the tone of our voice, the volume and body language.
Being in a more relaxed emotional state and with clear ideas, it will be much easier to manage the situation in a collaborative way.
Avoid surprises and let the other person know in advance that you´d like to discuss the matter to find solutions together. When people are surprised, sometimes they react defensively therefore it can make the situation worse.
The time and place are also important. If possible do it in neutral territory or over a coffee. Look for a place that can provide you with privacy and sufficient time to finish the conversation.
If you have no choice but to meet in the office, try siting next to each other and not in a way that may give a sense of opposition. Don’t be afraid to have your notes nearby so you can ensure you have your plan of key messages to hand.
Take the initiative and lay out the context of the situation, that you are aware that the situation created a potential conflict. That your aim is to have a conversation to discuss both of your needs and find solutions together that work for both of you.
You can summarise the situation and explain why it has created a conflict for you. Ensure that in your summary you show them that you have done what you can to look at the situation from their perspective too. Invite them to add anything that is relevant to them that you have not identified.
If they are open to having a conversation and you listen, your interpretation of the situation will probably change too because you will have new information that had not been considered before. Many of the conflicts that happen in the workplace arise due to misunderstandings instead of important differences.
That way you´ll be able to agree on solutions that take into account both perspectives with all the relevant information.
Their reaction is out of your hands but with a proactive and collaborative approach you are more likely to resolve the conflict than doing nothing.
So, next time you find yourself in a conflict with someone you are going to continue working with do what you can to manage the situation proactively.
Even if the conversation doesn’t go according to plan, you will have done all you can with your best intentions. This proactive behavior will also help establish your reputation as someone that looks for solutions instead of creating barriers for other people.