The Best Tools, Tips and Techniques to Navigate Conflict
In this post, I will provide you with some tools and tips to assist you when dealing with a conflict situation.
First, let’s understand that resolving conflict doesn’t mean convincing the other party that your thoughts, ideas, and understanding of a situation is the right way and their way is the wrong way. It is also not to place blame on anyone or to call someone out for something they are perceived to have done.
The whole idea of conflict resolution is to build an understanding of each of your thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of the situation, then together find a way to deal with the situation that works for both of you and develop tools for future communication.
Each of us has our own set of unique lenses we use to filter every aspect of our daily lives. These filters are built out of our life experiences, our beliefs, and our guiding principles. This can mean every situation we are involved in our lives may go through 1000+ filters within seconds of us experiencing the event. Our brain then registers a story; our story of what just happened. We attach an emotion to it whether it be happy, sad, frightened, angry, frustrated, shocked or disbelief then we move to the next phase of finalizing our story and we add our reaction to the situation.
Now, knowing this piece of information will help us to understand why in some cases we engage in a situation where we are in conflict with another person who may have a story very different from our own. Some aspects of the story could be the same, but now we throw in our own triggers (something unique to ourselves that creates a reaction) that we each bring with us. To understand what may trigger us and why we have to look at our history and upbringing. You may or may not know what some of your triggers are. Not many people do the reflection piece to understand their triggers and why it happens to them. Added to this aspect is the fact that if you don’t even know your triggers, how could you possibly know the triggers of someone you just met?
We will look at triggers, how to identify some of our own and why we have them as Tool #1 below.
Next, we have to look at the personality traits of each person we interact with. If you have done any of the personality assessments, are you red, green, blue, yellow or are you INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) or ENJF (extraverted, intuitive, feeling, judging). What is your conflict style or communication style? All of the factors add to how we interact with another human being. Shall I say more? Just because you speak the same language (English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc.) doesn’t mean communication will be easy.
Taking into account all of these factors, how are we ever expected to be able to communicate with another individual and actually understand them? Well in short, the more you communicate with the other person, the more you get to know them and who they are, how they think, what is important to them, what motivates them, or what their beliefs are. With this information, it will create an opportunity to build an understanding of them that when they say something to you, you will know what sits behind the words.
Here is the biggest tip I will give you, it seems simple, yet most don’t do it right.
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND FIRST………………. THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
When you are having a conversation with someone and you are starting to get the sense you do not see eye to eye on something, STOP. First, ask them to help you understand their perception of the situation. DO NOT tell your story first. By telling your story first you may shut down the conversation. People will think that you’ve already made up your mind as to what the truth of the matter is so why even waste their breath by stating their side. By asking them first you open the door for better conversation, better listening when you tell your story and a better solution in the end when someone feels you really do care about their story.
You will see the benefit of not speaking first after the first few conversations you have.
Asking open-ended questions will get you a deeper understanding of the why behind the action. Closed-ended questions will only provide a yes, no answer with no details. The understanding lies within the details.
Ask Open-ended Questions
If we want more information we need to ask questions in a way that opens up a dialogue between us and the other person. When we ask closed questions, we are asking for short or one-word responses. Closed questions are best used when we require specific answers and are disinterested in exploring options or finding out the other persons opinion.ClosedOpen-endedAre you driving to work today?
NoHow are you getting to work today?
Well, I was thinking about taking my bike but when I saw the weather, I thought better to take the car.Are you taking the 4-year nursing program at the university next fall?
YesWhat are you looking at taking for post-secondary?
I was considering taking the 4-year nursing degree then when I was at the University last week, I spoke to a career counselor. Now I’m considering the Nurse practitioner designation.What color do you prefer?
PurpleWhat would you like your decorations to look like for the party?
I would love to have a purple party with gold accents.When did you start working here?
10 years agoWhat is your history at the company?
I started working here 10 years ago in the mailroom. After 3 years I moved into a supervisor role and last year I was promoted to manager of the shipping department. When will the project be done?
One weekHow is the project coming along?
I am really stuck in getting a response back from __ department. If I get that one answer I could be done tomorrow, but if not it could take me a week. Do you want to do anything for your birthday?
NoWhat does your perfect birthday look like?
In the morning I want to go and play a round of golf and then have lunch at this new restaurant one of my coworkers mentioned.
When we take the time to ask and listen to open-ended questions we find out far more information that allows us to make more informed choices about how to proceed.
Actively Listening to What the Other Person has to Say
There is quite a discrepancy in what different individuals believe active listening looks like.
I’ve had conversations with individuals who self-proclaim that they are the greatest active listener.
Unfortunately, when I have tried to offer my thoughts, I find myself being talked over and frequently interrupted. When I do get the chance to say a few words, what I was able to say was then completely discounted. I was left to think that they have a long way to go to understand what true active listening is.
Here are a few tips of what it doesn’t look like and what it should look like;Should NOT look likeShould look likeInterrupting the speaker.Allowing time to speak, thinking about what the other person is saying.Checking your cell phone.Cellphones should be silenced.Reading over a different document.Have notepad in front of you to write the important aspects of what you are hearing.Looking out the window.Stay focused on them, you may not have to be looking at them in the eyes the full time, but your body language must say you are engaged.Asking them to repeat because you were not listening.Only ask for them to clarify what you heard them say to ensure you have the details correct.Cleaning your fingernails.Remember body language speaks volumes.Say but, wait, or sighing, rolling eyes up and backward.When speaking try not to use the word but, use ah-hah, okay, yes, nod your head.Waiting for them to stop speaking so you can make your point.Sincerely wanting to hear their point of view.Thinking of how you can negate their points or discount their opinion.Try and see the story/situation from their point of view (you do not need to agree).
Be Gracious. Look for the Intent Behind the Action or Words
When seeking to understand, what sits behind a situation that you feel has created the conflict, look for what was the intent behind the words, action or behavior.
By seeking first to understand the intent, it may take the conflict off the table and what you are left with is allowing the other person grace for an error in judgment, and error in the unknown or an error with a commitment to do better.
Let’s start with understanding the intent.
When people come to work each day, most come and try to do the best they can with as little stress as possible. I would say 98% of the workers I have had the pleasure of working with and meeting through my administrative career and mediation career this rings true. Now, I will be honest, the other 2% do exist and I say to you, get away as fast as you can. Yes, we have a formal process, yes, we have unions, yes, we have policies and laws that all say we should not have to work with these individuals. So yes, I have seen it work but it takes time, stress, and a great support team to help you through it. I have seen many good people lose the strength to carry on with pursuing the right to be treated respectfully.
Back to seeking the intent behind the action, words or behavior. When you sit down to have a conversation between yourself and the person you are seeking understanding from, start with the statement – “help me understand your view of the situation”. This statement in itself will open up the conversation and take you close to where the intent lies. When you hear the specific around the exact action or word that created this conflict for you, again ask them “can you help me understand why you chose that word or the action?”. This will allow you to determine whether or not they are speaking truthfully and had no knowledge that it would offend anyone. I will speak from experience in mediating harassment grievances either before they were investigated or after and I hear the same thing from the respondents, “If I knew that this word or action would have offended you, do you really think I would have said it? We have been coworkers for __ years and I really would never want to offend you”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this.
What I would like to ask of each of you reading this, is to provide grace towards the individual that you feel may have offended you and give them the opportunity to understand…..
What did they do or say that offended you?
What emotion, reaction, or memory did it bring up for you?
What is your request going forward?
If, after all of this, the individuals still continue with the words, behavior or action, you can now proceed in a formal complaint as they know it offends you and yet are choosing to do it anyway.
Triggers – How to Discover Yours?
Write out your understanding of the last situation that had an effect on you. Write as much detail as you can remember, time of day, who was there and even what was going on around you.
Ask yourself why you feel you reacted the way you did to that situation.
What belief, need, expectation or fear was not met or challenged that created your reaction/response?
Do you feel that it was something that is ingrained from your past experiences?
With further understanding of your trigger, do you feel you may be able to change the way you responded/reacted?
What message or understanding would you like to convey to the other person, if any?
What Communication Style Are You?
There are different assessments to understand what style of communication you are. What really defines the difference is what information is important to you to function in your personal life or work life.
Most assessments will group various traits into 4 different styles of communication.
Why is it important for you to have a basic understanding of your preferred style and information regarding the other 3 styles? Here’s why.
If you are having difficulties communicating with a specific individual, you may be able to review the traits within each style and it will assist you in customizing your communication with them whether it be in person, by email or by phone to increase the chances of a successful dialogue.
Have you ever attended a meeting and after you are debriefing with someone and you hear, I never got that from what they were saying, here is what I heard? You wonder if you both actually attended the same meeting.
Has your staff ever come to you and asked why you are withholding information from them? They noticed that after you attended a meeting with other managers, the employees from the other team stated that their manager told them way more details regarding the new project then you gave to your team. Are you withholding information from your team? You’re not withholding, you just didn’t think it was really that important.
Have you had a staff member ask questions to fill in the blank for them, and you innocently perceived their questioning as challenging your authority?
Have you ever had your partner or spouse ask you why you didn’t give them a vital piece of information to do with a topic and all you can think was, why is that even important? Well here’s why.
Within each style, the information each person requires to make sense of their task, project or request comes from the information they need to suit their communication style.
Support – Orientated
How are you to determine which style, or 2 styles, would be reflective of you without using a formal assessment tool?
Look at your last few emails, voice record your next phone conversation (let the other person know you’re recording it and why), then do an analysis of your conversation to see which style best reflects you? Have fun looking at your style. You can also try and identify what style the other person may have.
Have you ever had one of those conversations with another individual in which you walk away feeling like it was a great conversation? That individual was so easy to talk with, even if you didn’t agree with their views on certain topics. It was still a very comfortable conversation to have engaged in. You guessed it! they are most likely the same style as yourself.
Now you may ask yourself when I’m looking at hiring someone, would it make sense to make life simpler and cause less conflict to hire someone with the same style?
It would make life simpler but you would be missing the dynamics and input the different styles bring to the table. This may cause you to overlook how your decision will impact a group of people not represented in the decision-making process. The team may miss spotting and problem-solving challenges that may occur in the process if you have no influencer style. The conscientious style can warn against risk to balance the group out. See where I am going with this?
Here is another trait that can affect how people communicate with each other when they are in conflict. Again, there are various assessments and theories on conflict styles but essentially, they come down to most saying there are 4 styles with a few saying that there are 5. I will go through some basics of each style and we can see why it is important for us to have knowledge of this personality trait.
Why is it important to know your conflict style? And maybe your coworkers? Boss? Spouse? It’s not like you can change them!
Understanding, why people respond the way they do in conflict, may assist you to change or adapt your ways to resolve the issue in a much more beneficial way.
If you are interested, you can do an online assessment and learn more.
We believe in letting our light shine, but not shining it in the eyes of other people. — Donald B. Kraybill
Traits – This style is beneficial when dealing with emergency situations. When the value of the relationship cannot be given much weight. Best suited for Firefighter, EMS, Army, Navy, Police, anywhere a decision has to be made as life and death are a major factor. When decisions have to be made by management and there is no time given for consultation for whatever reason, this style may be beneficial to use.
It should not be used when there is time to resolve a situation and consider the impact on the future of the relationship, whether it be personal or workplace; there will definitely be an impact. If this style is dealing with an avoiding style, they may be pushing to have them engage in resolving a situation, yet by pushing them they drive them further into avoiding the situation completely.
WIN – LOSE
Task – high = Relationship – low
Traits – This style dislikes every aspect of the conflict. They will do whatever they can in most instances to not engage in any conflict resolution, problem-solving or difficult conversations at all. It causes them stress and may bring back memories of their parents fighting all the time. Or they may remember a workplace situation where they were terminated or lost their dream job because they engaged in conflict. The more you push the more they retreat. Silence is all you will get if pushed too hard.
To engage an avoider, you have to give them time and space to prepare. Stay calm, pay special attention to your tone of voice and provide some silent pauses to allow them to speak. Let them know that their opinion really matters to you and as such you will wait until they are ready to have the conversation. Just don’t let them avoid it forever. Eventually, all the avoidance may lead to an explosion or they may just silently leave the relationship.
Task – low = Relationship – low
Traits – These are your coordinators of the social committees, pot lucks, union reps, bible study, scout and girl guide leaders. They are the doers. They highly value relationships, teamwork and peaceful environments. They will take on tasks when no one else’s hand goes up in the meeting. They will plan vacation, trips and holidays so that everyone has a good time. The problem that arises is sometimes they over-promise with the true intent of fulfilling everything they promise but falling short. They are hardest on themselves as they are people-pleasers and they just don’t know how to tell anyone NO. When the boss or spouse comes to the realization that what they are promised will not be fulfilled and mention it to this style it is devastating to them.
If this is your employee or spouse, get to know the signs. Watch for burn out. Listen to comments regarding them feeling overwhelmed. If this is your style, be ok to say NO or at the very least ask for people to help you complete the project, task.
Task – medium = Relationship – medium
Traits – This is the style that we hope every style can work their way towards. It does take a bit more time, yet in the end, you will see the positive results and realize that the buy-in is already there. When people feel that they have had a say in a decision, you also have their commitment to making it successful. Collaboration is about hearing the perspectives of all individuals affected by the decision. Value what you hear and develop your decision based on what people have stated.
You will slow down the competitive style, you will provide time to engage the avoiding styles by inviting them to the conversation and allowing them reflective time, you will be engaging the compromisers and accommodators to build a plan that includes them yet shares the responsibilities equally amongst the team. You will provide a structure for a conversation that looks at what is important to consider from each participant, why it’s important, what are their cautions going forward and what can that process look like, defining specifics, along with areas of accountability for each team member.
Task – high = Relationship- high
Of course, there are many other factors that we can look at that may be influencing the person we are attempting to communicate with, these are just a few.
By just sitting down and having a casual conversation, building understanding and knowledge of this person will be your greatest tool in learning how to improve your ability to communicate with them in the future.
All the best, stay calm and conversation on – Jeannette