Dealing with conflicts makes most of us cringe. Anticipating bringing up a sensitive subject with a coworker or boss or friend can fill us with dread. No one enjoys the “icky” feelings a tough conversation can trigger.
It is natural to avoid awkward situations that shine a spotlight on us at our most inept. People fear they will make the situation worse by losing their cool and saying something they regret. Under stress, we tend to react and default to the communication patterns of our family of origin.
Normalizing the inevitability of conflicts is the first step. Logically we can agree there is no way around conflicts emerging in our relationships – especially at work. Think about it. What makes for successful collaborations whether that is two people or twenty?
Successful collaborations require people that care, and who are invested and interdependent in achieving a common purpose. You need partners with different and complementary strengths. You need people who need to work together to achieve shared goals.
Why is there conflict? Conflicts occur between that care and who are joined together to produce an outcome. Conflict happens because we work with, live and love people who are different from us. We have different histories, values, strengths, communication preferences, work styles and lifestyles.
Even if we are similar, we can get lazy. Active listening requires effort, and it is easy to make assumptions that if left unchecked, can lead to misunderstandings.
At work, typically, you do not have the option of avoiding someone with whom you are experiencing difficulties. Not if you are dependent on that person to achieve shared goals. If quitting your job or your friendship over it is not an option, it becomes time to buckle up for that tough conversation.
The next step is assessing and addressing gaps in our conflict handling and conversational skills. Most of us can readily admit to skill gaps in this area. Interpersonal and collaborative skills are not typically a big part of the school curriculum. Training in interpersonal skill usually only starts when you arrive in the workplace.
As a conflict coach, I have witnessed countless times how better conversation preparation is the best way to increase the chances of success.
Here are some pointers to help you to prepare for a challenging conversation
1. Spend some private time to identify the difficulty and acknowledge different points of view.
- How do you see the situation?
- What assumptions are you making? What stories are you telling yourself?
- What do you think you are contributing?
- How might the other person perceive the same situation?
- What emotions is this problem stirring up for you?
- What is the impact of this situation on you, and what assumption are you making about the other person’s intention?
2. Be sure this is a conversation that is worth having.
- What is your purpose in addressing this issue/having this conversation?
- How the discussion is related to the shared results you are interdependent with each other to achieve?
- What will likely happen if you ignore this problem? How will you feel? What kind of impact will there be on your work?
- How is this problem affecting the productivity and morale of your unit?
- What specifically do you want to change because of this conversation?
3. Invite the other person to talk with you.
- Emphasize your interest in working well together and hearing their point of view.
- A couple of sentences you might consider using are: “I would like to understand where you are coming from on …” or “Can you say a little more about how you see things about …?”
4. Start the conversation by “seeking first to understand.”
- Ask the other person an open-ended question that will get him/her to describe how she sees the situation.
- Do your very best listening. Listen with empathy.
- Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and point of view. Paraphrase to see if you got it right.
5. Share your point of view, your intentions, and your feelings. Use “I” statements.
- Describe how you believe you got to where you are, including how you contributed to the problem. Take responsibility for your part.
6. Talk about the future and what you can do differently, so you don’t end up in the same place.
- Offer what you plan to do differently.
- Ask the person what suggestions they have to resolve the situation. Suggest what you think the other person could do.
7. Thank the other person for talking with you. Offer why it was essential to resolve this conflict.
And celebrate your bravery! Brene Brown has a saying t – “When you speak up you choose temporary discomfort over forming a resentment.”
Do you need some support to prepare for a conversation you are dreading in your personal or professional life? I am a trained mediator and conflict coach, and I welcome hearing from you if you need some help.