April 26th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Conflict resolution is a skill that can be practiced by any of us, but the trouble is that we often practice it in ineffective ways. Most of the mistakes we make stem from making assumptions about what we think other person wants or needs. And usually the conflict at hand reflects a much deeper issue that each side is trying to dance around.
Ineffective approaches to conflict resolution: Many of us go on autopilot when a conflict arises, and use tactics like these:
Avoidance: Most of us avoid conflict like the plague, especially in work and family situations. We’d be much happier not rocking the boat and stirring up negative feelings. We aren’t looking for a way to practice conflict resolution, until the resentment and frustration under the surface erupts into a big mess.
Triangulation: In triangulation, you are upset with something someone said or did, and instead of working directly to create a way to bring in conflict resolution, you hold it in. And you take out your anger and frustration on another, usually innocent party. In this case, all you wind up with are two people who are hurt and angry at you, and in the worst case you’ve extended your conflict to include a third person.
Ruminating: Ruminating is a state of constantly going over and over the same thought, with no productive way of solving a problem. In rumination, you remind yourself of every slight that the other party has done to you in the past, and you get stuck in the feeling of hurt that these feelings bring you. Ruminating does nothing other than provide a cheap way to stir up your emotions.
Yielding: The yielding style is a passive way of deal making, compromising and generally emotionally checking out of the conflict resolution process. You force the other person to do all of the decision-making, while they sit there and wonder what your strategy really is. Many times when we use yielding to abandon our responsibility to participate in conflict resolution, we will passively try to sabotage what the other person was forced to decide on his or her own.
Competitiveness: If you’re totally out for your own interests and aren’t concerned with the other person, your aim is getting what you want instead of finding a way to bring conflict resolution into the argument. Everything becomes either a win or a loss for you, and you spend your time trying to win dominance over the other party.
Judgemental and Defensive: We love to think we can read others’ minds, and tell the other person what they are thinking, doing, and what they want. But the reality is that we only see others behaving the way we think they are. We can try empathy, putting ourselves into their shoes and trying to feel how they feel. But if we tell them what they think and why they’re wrong, we’re being judgmental, blocking any conflict resolution.
April 24th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Asking Questions to Find the Problem Source
The greatest keys to successful conflict resolution can often be found in personal reflection and compromise. Some situations demand a different approach. In one where a business contractor fails to meet your expectations, it may simply be a matter of a misunderstanding instead of willful negligence. A client that does not follow through on a contract may not have understood the terms. In both cases, the problem can be more easily resolved by taking the time to ask questions and explore where the whole issue started.
Preemptive- Do they have a full understanding?
Conflict resolution isn’t always about settling an argument. It is often better to avoid the conflict than to try and solve one that’s already begun. Communication is the quickest way to address an issue before it becomes a giant problem. In the case with a business contract, ask whether they have understood the full terms of the agreement. Be sure and clarify any unclear points, and make sure that everything is clarified so there is no confusion. Ask, “what did this mean to you?” to proactively explore areas of misunderstanding and places of possible openings towards conflict resolution.
Making the assumption that they already know and are willfully deceiving you or are shirking their responsibilities can bring you from a misunderstanding to a lawsuit, without stopping in between to check what might really be going on. A misunderstanding is frustrating and unfortunate, but asking questions and seeking the source of the problems leaves room to repair things. It may even provide very useful information about how to fix the root causes of these kinds of problems to make things run more smoothly in the future.
Reducing the need for conflict resolution can free up the energy, time, and money that has gone towards dealing with constant low-level emergencies that plague many organizations and relationships. A lawsuit puts everyone on the defensive (or on the attack, even better!) and shuts down any willingness to search out the issues that actually need to be resolved. Often, the only issue that gets decisively resolved with a lawsuit is who is more willing to sending money down the drain.
It may be tempting to ridicule the other person for lack of understanding. Instead, understand that not everyone operates along the same mind track. Different people assume and project along different lines. Take the time to make sure each person understands, and ask questions proactively to make sure you’re all on the same page. It will save a lot of pain and headaches down the road if you can proactively work at conflict resolution as soon as indications of disagreement surface.
Asking without accusing
Some questions can be perceived as a challenge, and can obscure conflict resolution if they are not poised with care. An inquiry about a broken door on a rental may seem natural and quite reasonable, but to the tenant may come across as accusing. Instead of a harsh demand, a soft, low-pitched and slow voice, and a curious approach. People can often hear it in your voice if you’ve already made up your mind that they are to blame.
Simply ask, “It looks like the door frame is damaged. Do you know anything about how that might have happened?” In this case, you are asking for specific information, rather than asking if they are the ones who broke it. The tenant is often more willing to share the story rather than reacting defensively. Good questions asked with an open mind can help unearth some of the root causes perpetuating the disagreement, and move you further along the road to satisfying conflict resolution.
April 19th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Conflict resolution begins with yourself. Often, this means compromise. In giving up a part of what you want, you may not gain everything you had hoped for, but it might give you more of what you truly want in the big picture and can go a long way in settling arguments. What assumptions are you willing to question in exchange for lasting conflict resolution?
For example, you may feel that you want is justified, perhaps for a very good logical reason. However, the other person feels differently, and is frustrated that you seem so set on your opinion as the only right way to see the situation. And in turn, you may feel annoyed at their continuing resistance and apparent lack of understanding which seems to be undermining the goal of efficient conflict resolution. It is common to snap back with reasons why you are right or deserve what you are asking for, thinking that the whole problem could be resolved if only the other person would listen to reason. This can cause you to appear selfish and stubborn, leading them to increased feelings of frustration, defensiveness, and closing down any willingness to listen to your side of the story.
Stop and consider what you are trying to achieve, and realize that you may have to give something up that is standing in your way. What would you be willing to drop in exchange for peaceful conflict resolution? Maybe the thing to be given up isn’t even the particulars of what you want in the situation. It may be the tactics and strategy you are using that you will have to question in order to approach conflict resolution with the other person. Then you can shift from attacking the other person, to really figuring out what limiting assumptions, beliefs, or unquestioned “certainties” are perpetuating the problem.
Would you be willing to drop the belief that the other person is selfish and unreasonable in order to have the dialogue about respect that is stewing right under the surface? It may just be that if you are willing to give up your insistence on the particular form you’d like the conflict resolution to take, it can create space for you to both learn from each other that you each want respect and consideration. Then you can talk about how to get it and what to do about it.
It is not wrong to stand firm on an issue, but sometimes it can be unnecessary and not worth the fight. Question why you would want the thing you want that badly, and what benefits it will have for you or those around you. Is the thing you want actually a strategy towards satisfying something for you that might possibly be achieved in a different way you haven’t thought of yet?
Do you really want to force your colleague into doing the brunt work in the next big office project to prove your point in a long-standing argument? Or do you just finally want an opportunity to contribute and show what you’re capable of? Do you want your husband to finally clean the toilet, and the kitchen too while he’s at it? Or do you want a tangible demonstration that he cares about the spaces you share and considers your needs? If you stay stuck arguing over who gets which role in your next big work project, or who should be cleaning the house this time around, no one will really get anything they want and you will continue having the same old arguments. Instead of being able to negotiate calmly to find a win-win conflict resolution that works for everyone, starting out insisting on your solution as the only one will probably just drag the both of you into the same old familiar mess.
If you are open to multiple strategies towards satisfying your needs, you can create a space for collaboration where the game becomes, “how do we find a strategy that satisfies both of our objectives?” Instead of fighting each other to see who will win and who must lose. Then you can have a discussion about the various possibilities in search of conflict resolution that fulfills everyone’s needs and really gets at the root causes of the problem.
A huge cause of festering conflict, unquestioned assumptions and lack of compromise, is often simply a result of sheer pride and stubbornness in holding on to what you want. Be willing to take a step down, realizing that some of what you wanted is in fact not so necessary, after all. In fact, it may be the biggest thing standing in the way of achieving truly effective conflict resolution.
April 18th, 2012 — Uncategorized
For many people, dealing with conflict and conflict resolution is simply a part of life. Often, the first thought that comes to mind on the subject of conflicts is relationships, especially between loved ones. In reality, however, conflict can happen anywhere, even with a complete stranger. A loved one feels let down, a business partner misunderstands the contract, the waitress brought the wrong order- it can be anything. Living and working with other people creates inevitable points of friction that need to be addressed one way or another. Successful conflict resolution leads to stronger relationships and a stronger capacity to deal with difficult situations, whether you know the person for just a few moments or a lifetime.
Conflict resolution is not easy, but it is worth it to settle tensions before they blow up and create an emotional war zone with entrenched battle lines, invisible snipers, and explosive landmines. Most people can agree that achieving conflict resolution is a better way deal with arguments rather than letting things get out of control to the point of destructive, angry fights. In the heat of the moment, however, it can be difficult to keep the right perspective and calmly seek out a path towards effective conflict resolution. It is all too easy to get stuck in our own anger and irritation, blinding us from seeing the deeper issues that gave rise to the conflict in the first place.
Many times it is about perspective. We feel judged by the other person based on what they said or did, or something they said triggers feelings of blame. Sometimes a request can feel like manipulation or a demand, as though we are obligated to do what was asked. Feeling backed into a corner without choice or power to respond freely can make people react defensively. Everyone has had the experience of a discussion degrading into a turn-by-turn defensive justification of one’s own perspective and critical attack blaming the other person. These discussions go nowhere very quickly, and searching for conflict resolution is the last on anyone’s list of priorities at that point.
Instead of reacting with anger right away, make an effort to actively listen to the other person, paying attention to words, tone, and behavior. These are messages that are being sent directly to you. What are they trying to tell you? Often it is not anger or condemnation (although that may be what is being said on the surface), but underneath it might be just pain and wanting to be understood. Might hearing this message be a key part of what they need to move forwards into conflict resolution?
When thoughts come up for you that feel like the absolute truth of why the other person is to blame and why they are wrong that prevent you from hearing their message, try and suspend your judgement for just a few moments. Look at them for a moment, or picture them in your mind’s eye. See if you can find any room for curiosity about what basic emotion they might be feeling that would motivate them to act this way. Maybe fear? Anger? Sadness veiled over with something else?
Shift your question from “why can’t you see that you are wrong!?!” to “What’s going on for you, and what’s the message you really need to me to hear and understand?” You may find that this simple shift can open up new ways forward to real conflict resolution.
April 17th, 2012 — Uncategorized
“You’re Not Listening to Me!”
You’ve probably heard that phrase at some point in your life. The fact is, most people run into the problem of feeling as though they aren’t being heard on a daily basis. This may occur while on the phone with a customer service representative, or it may occur in a boardroom meeting to discuss a possible new product or service. The problem of feeling as though your voice isn’t being heard is often one of the root causes of a conflict, and so understanding how to use effective listening techniques is one of the keys to conflict resolution.
What is Listening?
Before you can learn how to actively listen, it’s important to understand what listening is. While it’s certainly true that listening is the act of using your ears to hear sounds, it actually goes much deeper than that. Listening means allowing someone else the space to voice what it important to them, and putting your intention on really understanding what they say. These two elements are often what is missing from most conflict situations. In a conflict, opposing sides both have an idea, thought or message, and they want the other side to hear what they have to say. Simply hearing what someone has to say is not listening. Listening is hearing what the other side has to say, considering it and then meeting it with the proper response. Conflict resolution starts with listening, not simply hearing.
What is Active Listening?
While active listening means using your ears to hear what a person is saying, it also means showing them that you are listening. Active listening may include verbal cues, such as agreeing with the person speaking, or it may include body language, such as nodding your head. The point of active listening is to show the person you’re speaking with that you are actually paying attention to what they have to say, not simply hearing it. You will want to show and convince the other person that you are giving some thought to what they are saying, and that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. In conflict resolution, it is imperative that the opposing side knows you are actively listening.
One of the keys to doing this effectively, however, is to be actually genuine about it; don’t feign interest. While feigning interest may be the polite thing to do, you can’t force yourself to be interested if you’re truly not. If you are motivated to work towards conflict resolution, consider what signals you are sending and how genuinely interested you are in allowing the other person space to speak and to be understood. When giving cues that you are paying attention and actively listening, make your verbal and visual cues genuine, and do not use sarcasm or overly-inflated gestures, such as rolling your eyes, to show you’re listening. This will generally be met with more defensiveness or criticism on their part, making the goal of achieving conflict resolution that much farther away.
You can also paraphrase what the person is saying to show that you’re listening. This means interjecting to check in with the person to ensure you understand them. This will also give the person a chance to clear things up if they aren’t being clear in what they are saying. While listening, you have a chance to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you were them, how would you feel about the situation? How would you want to be spoken to or treated? If you’re considering saying something in response, how would the other person feel about it or react to it? It’s important to keep in mind that conflict resolution involves both parties in the conflict.
Active Listening: Your Secret Toolbox
When actively listening, you need to ask yourself what you intend to gain from the situation. Are you wanting to get someone to see your point? Are you hoping to convince a person that their point is incorrect? Are you wanting to reach a conclusion to a conflict? Are you truly hoping for conflict resolution, or are you simply trying to prove your point, regardless of the cost?
Listening to someone is actually one of the most effective ways to persuade someone to see your side, and it can also be a fantastic tool to use in conflict resolution. In fact, listening is one of the oldest tools used in rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and it is used in virtually all communication, every single day. By listening to someone with an opposing viewpoint, you are essentially disarming them. If you’re in a conflict with someone, they are going to expect you to respond. In fact, while they are talking, they are probably already thinking of a response to your expected response. Instead, by listening, you are disarming them, leaving them with an unexpected response.
Not Listening Leads to Conflict
When trying to get a point across, you probably will want to be able to be clear and concise; but what happens when someone interrupts you?
Imagine you’re trying to persuade a coworker that your idea for a new product is better than theirs. You might approach your coworker and begin to tell all about this great new idea that you have. In the middle of your presentation, your coworker cuts you off, and then they begin to tell you why they don’t like the idea. Your first reaction may be to then cut your coworker off and continue with your presentation. From there, your coworker will probably feel the need to cut you off again, and this can then escalate with each of your cutting each other off, and no real information being presented; this creates conflict.
Once this conflict begins, however, it can spiral out of control quickly. In fact, within a few moments, the conflict probably won’t even be about the product anymore, but instead, it will be about each of you cutting the other off. This often leads to raising one’s voice, showing an aggressive posture and hurt feelings. Unfortunately, had both of you practiced active listening in this situation, it may not have led to such a conflict.
How Active Listening Can Bring About Conflict Resolution
Now, imagine the above scenario again, but this time, consider that, when your coworker cuts you off, you practice active listening. Instead of immediately reacting and trying to talk over them, you allow them to continue speaking, showing them from time to time that you are listening by paraphrasing what you hear to be important to them, and showing with your body language that you are open to what they have to say. By doing this, the scenario may play out quite differently. Your coworker may be surprised that you aren’t trying to talk over them, and they may react with a softer voice and a less aggressive stance. They may then finish their statement and allow you to speak. Or you can interject to paraphrase what you’ve heard them say, and ask if they’d be willing to hear your opinion about it. From there, you can begin to actually listen to one another, avoiding a conflict before it even begins.
Don’t Let Your Pride Create a Conflict
The issue that many people have with listening in both their professional and personal lives is allowing their ego to get in the way. Everyone wants their voice to be heard, and everyone wants their thoughts, ideas and feelings validated, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to speak and communicate honesty and openly. When someone doesn’t have their feelings validated, they may be apt to become more aggressive, and this can create conflict.
Everyone wants to be respected, including the person you’re in a conflict with. For most people, simply being quiet and listening to what the other person has to say may seem counter-intuitive. Why should I be quiet when I’m trying to say something? The fact is, by being quiet and listening, you’re actually showing the opposing side that you believe in your argument strongly enough that you’re willing to let them speak. Active listening can demonstrate that you have confidence in yourself while at the same time respecting another’s perspective on the situation, creating a space for dialogue where both people’s opinions merit respect and due consideration. You may just find that by actively listening, you establish a platform of respect and trust for your own voice to be heard as well.
By listening to a person, you are showing them the respect which you yourself would like to receive from them. In conflict resolution, the goal is to show the opposing side respect by actively listening to them, and in turn, this should garner respect from them.
Patience is a Virtue
Listening to others is a technique which can take time to develop. It involves patience and an understanding of yourself. By being patient, you are giving yourself time to formulate an appropriate response to what you’re being told, all while giving respect and credence to the opposing side. As we’ve discussed, this can go a long way in conflict resolution.
Final Thoughts and Questions
While implementing conflict resolution strategies, you need to ask yourself why you are doing so. What do you wish the final result to be? Are your current words or actions in line with that goal? Are you setting yourself up to win a battle and lose a war? Or are you investing in creating a civil, respectful space where people in conflict can agree to disagree where they need to?
You should also examine your attitude, your emotions and your behavior. Are they in line with who you truly are? Are you being honest in your approach to resolving the conflict? Conflict resolution is about honesty and directness, both in your emotions and your thoughts. By remaining humble, yet clear and stable, you will be able to employ active listening to bring about a better outcome to a conflict, and you will generally earn respect while doing so.