As humans, we are wired wrong. It seems we are not naturally inclined to work through conflict adeptly. We quickly perceive and respond to conflict as a threat. Our natural tendency is to either look for an escape route from the perceived danger (flight), or respond with retaliation to save ourselves (fight) – both responses are not helpful. It seems our instincts don’t help us when we most need them to.
In Managing Differences by Daniel Dana, he outlines two cardinal rules that hold these natural reflexes at bay:
This is a great place to start.
These represent what not to do, but what then are the next steps? We know from experience that without a plan, conflict escalates and quickly spins out of control. Here are some simple tips to help move us through conflict and avoid coercing or distancing.
1. Offer Something.
Be the one to initiate, in some way show that you have moved towards seeking restoration and harmony. Apologize, own up to your part, express regret about how things are, or say something nice to the other person to demonstrate that you are wanting a change. Yes, this makes us vulnerable, but it also sets the stage for something new to take place.
2. Make Time.
Give the conversation priority. Agree on a time that is suitable for both of you. When you or the other person is tired, hungry, or distracted it is probably not the best time. Sometimes workplaces have periods of high intensity. Consider if you can wait till the crunch is over before approaching, but still ensure the conversation happens.
3. Focus on the Issue.
Identify the issue or problem in as few words as possible. Focus on observable facts – explain what was said or done in concrete terms that, from your perspective, may have contributed to the conflict. It may also be helpful to state the impact of the behaviors.
Give the other person the chance to respond first. Listening, much like distancing and coercing, does not come naturally. We are quick to think of a response, a defense, or a justification and usually it comes to mind when the other person is speaking – which means we are not listening.
5. Craft a Solution.
Explore options together. Look for solutions and ways to move forward that you can both agree on. Find out what the other person needs. Think about what you need. This may mean you both concede or compromise, and it certainly means you both have a responsibility to change future behaviors.
6. Let it Go.
Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like taking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Wayne Dyer said, “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” Sometimes we can’t solve the issue. We don’t control others. We only control our own responses. We can choose to act with kindness, integrity, and self-control despite what happens. If things don’t go as we’d hoped, we can choose to let it go.
Supporting ourselves and others to move constructively through conflict requires us to stay in an uncomfortable situation and moderate our natural tendency to self-preserve. With focus and intentional implementation of the above tips, we can avoid escalating the conflict and give ourselves the opportunity to restore the relationship and realize a resolution.
ACHIEVE is conducting a study for a book we are working on. The book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey. We hope you participate in the short survey – we would love to hear your input.