I’m teaching a “Conquering Conflict” workshop today in Downtown Houston. While reviewing my materials, I was reminded that interpersonal conflict is something that many people dread, but something that can often have a positive outcome if we change the way we think about it and learn a few basic skills.
Here are just 10 of the many tips from my “Conquering Conflict” workshop to get you started toward better conflict resolution.
1. Know your conflict style. For most people, it’s “Fight” or “Flight.” Both choices are appropriate—given the right situation. There is a third choice, “Resolve,” but that’s one that most people don’t grab for instinctively. Knowing how you instinctively approach conflict is the first step toward making the right choice in how to approach a given situation.
2. See it coming. Conflict rarely comes “out of the blue.” It’s like a hurricane. If you watch, listen, and heed the warning, you can take appropriate action. If you wait until it’s upon you- you end up in a defensive position- and unlikely to have a good outcome.
3. Choose your battles. If you’re just going for the win, if the outcome won’t make anyone’s life better, if the cause of the conflict is trivial, or the cost of the conflict to the relationship outweighs the benefit of talking about it, consider just letting it go.
4. Think before you respond. When someone tries to start a conflict “discussion,” think carefully about the first words out of your mouth. Your goal should be to de-escalate, not escalate the conflict.
5. Admit when you’re wrong. One of the things I hate the most is a “well but.” A person approaches you about something, you know you’re wrong, but instead of just admitting it, you try to defend yourself or reverse the blame. “Well, but it’s not my fault, you shouldn’t have asked me to help you move in the first place.” (This after the person did ask, you agreed to help, then you forgot to show up.)
6. Take your share of the responsibility. If you can own any part of the problem, own it. People are usually more willing to take their responsibility when the other party does too.
7. Agree whenever possible. In customer service situations, or other situations where the discussion initiator is correct in his or her complaint, concern, or comment, just agree. “You’re right; it’s frustrating to wait in line for a half hour.” Is a better response than, “Gee sorry, it’s just busy here on Mondays.” Say the latter, and you’re pretty likely to escalate the conflict.
8. Be specific. When you have a complaint or problem, be specific, so the other party knows exactly what it is. When responding to a complaint, be just as specific about what you’ll do to take care of it. Being specific increases the odds that a conflict will be resolved successfully.
9. Prepare for the other person’s response. When people get up the courage to “confront” others, they generally only “plan” what they’re going to say to get the conversation started. What they should prepare themselves for is the other person’s reaction. What if the other person gets angry? Cries? Shuts down? What are you going to say next? If you’re not prepared—end of conversation, and most likely, any chance of resolution.
10. Change the way you think about conflict. Many people think all conflict should be avoided, like the flu. However, handled correctly, conflict can improve relationships, open people’s eyes to new things, and keep people from imploding or exploding from grudges, hurts, and other complaints that left unresolved, only get worse.
Note: Future “Practical Communication” posts will provide specific language and steps for conflict discussion. Stay tuned!