Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I’ve learned.
Reacting to Conflict
When conflict occurs, you can choose to react in one of four different ways:
- You can play the victim and act betrayed. You can complain to those who will listen and create alliances against the offending party. This rarely works in the business world, yet many workers actively engage in such passive-aggressive behaviors instead of directly addressing conflict.
- You can withdraw, either by physically removing yourself from the situation or emotionally and mentally disengaging. This may involve walking out of a heated meeting, moving to a new unit or team, or quitting your job. A Gallup Organization survey reports that, at any one time, as many as 19 percent of an organization’s employees are actively disengaged. Worse yet, more than half (55 percent) are not engaged, simply putting in their hours.
- You can invite change—an option most people never consider because it involves backing down from their original stance. Those engaged in personal battles or who remain stubbornly attached to their core beliefs may think change is tantamount to failure. Healthier individuals can look for win-win possibilities that open the door to creative solutions.
- You can confront people honestly, openly and candidly. This is the preferred option, but it’s the most difficult to put into practice because we often fear conflict and lack the skills to work through it.
When conflict occurs, leaders must address it as soon as possible to prevent it from escalating into a chronic or pervasive problem. The following steps are critical:
- Create rules of engagement. Establish procedures and rules for addressing conflict fairly.
- Demonstrate the importance of caring. Nothing can be resolved in an atmosphere of distrust.
- Depersonalize the issues. Focus on behaviors and problems, not on personalities.
- Don’t triangulate or bring in political allies.
- Know when to let it go.
- Know when to bring in a professional mediator, coach or trainer.
Best Practices in Conflict Conversations
No matter how much you may want to avoid them, emotionally charged conversations are a fact of every leader’s life. When you have to engage in one, try this:
- Always start with the other person’s agenda.
- Listen without saying a word 70 percent of the time. Confirm you understand what the other person is saying 20 percent of the time, both verbally and non-verbally. In the remaining time, ask questions that advance the conversation’s meaning.
- Become a people reader. Pay attention to others’ facial expressions.
- Focus not only on what people are saying, but also on what they are not
- Frequently confirm what people are thinking, feeling and believing. Don’t assume you know what they mean.
- When people are trying to make their points, practice the art of saying “tell me more.”
- Don’t go into difficult conversations unprepared. First, think about where you want to end up. Second, think about what’s really going on. Finally, begin the process of discovering and designing an action plan.
- From a communication standpoint, you get what you want by first giving others what they need.
- At the end of every important conversation, review the commitments.
Let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear your favorite tips for handling conflict. You can leave me a comment here:
Author: Cathy Shaughnessy
Cathy Shaughnessy is a PRISM award winning ICF Master Certified Coach and author of the book series The Really Competent Coach. Cathy coaches senior leaders, mentors credentialed coaches, trains fledgling coaches and helps organizations build strong coaching cultures.
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