I hope you have been practicing these tools. If you practice them in normal every day conversation and meetings where there is little or no conflict, these powerful communication tools can become natural for you. Then, when conflict rears its head, and it will, you will be ready.
Setting the stage with the first three tools
The last three weeks we unpacked the first three tools. These are sequential tools. Each one sets the stage for the next one. When successfully executed, each tool increases the likelihood of a productive outcome at the conclusion of the meeting or conversation. Clearly stating your purpose or goal for any communication event helps the listener or audience set appropriate expectations. This significantly decreases the potential for greater conflict resulting from unmet expectations. After the goal or purpose is clearly stated, a confident communicator will admit fallibility. They will be vulnerable and admit that they could be wrong before they explain what they understand or have observed about the conflict at hand. This honest humility clearly communicates that you believe you can learn something new. And when you are done giving your perspective and it comes time for the other person or persons to speak, this admission of fallibility reassures them that you will listen. After these two statements the third tool is a question asking the other person or persons to help you understand what their perspective or experience is in the situation. This is all about listening. And, if you are willing to develop further skills, active listening can be very effective in managing conflict. Each time you respond through active listening the person speaking is reassured that you are listening and clearly hearing what they are saying. It also communicates your sincere interest in understanding. Intermittently reflecting back what you are hearing through active listening allows for clarification to ensure you are understanding as much as possible. How much these three tools have really helped to manage the conflict at hand and bring better understanding and appreciation will be revealed by using the fourth tool.
Being As Clear at the End as You Were at the Beginning
The fourth tool is also a question: Where do we go from here? What is the next step? And it is very important to keep this concrete and achievable. As clearly as you stated your goal or purpose in the beginning, now, what is next must be clearly determined. Conflict usually develops slowly and builds over time. Its management and eventual resolution will also take time. This fourth tool invites participants to come up with just one thing that can be done now to further the management of the conflict. If the other person or persons understood the purpose of the conversation or meeting, and if they feel heard and understood, they will be ready to contribute in managing the conflict by helping to determine what can be done next. This openness to “what’s next” indicates there has been sufficient mutual understanding to move forward. The conflict may not be fully resolved, but there has been progress and the potential for continued management and even resolution, is real. The answer to this question must be a specific action, agreed to be completed by a specific time. If this step is successfully completed and the parties are mutually satisfied, you have the the potential for conflict resolution. Further steps can be identified and executed. Each subsequent step agreed upon and successfully executed can lead to better management and eventual resolution of the conflict under discussion. All the while, you are building conflict management skill.
We have now unpacked all four tools for simple conflict management. However we stated at the beginning that using these tools, even using them extremely well does not guarantee the other person or persons will cooperate with the effort. What if the other person or person do not cooperate? At any point in this process they can refuse to cooperate or even escalate the conflict. They can refuse to agree with the stated purpose of the conversation or meeting and argue for other outcomes. They can be so skeptical or cynical that they will not believe you will listen or want to learn anything from them. They can refuse to help you understand their perspective. They can refuse to to talk at all or they can react defensively to your explanation, even with your admission that you could be wrong. If the other person or persons choose this route, what do you do?
Here’s Where You Learn and Grow Anyway
In this case, the fourth tool changes significantly. They will be unable to contribute to determining the next step because they are not interested in managing the conflict. But you can still come away with better understanding. You have learned that the conflict is more serious than you realized. It will require other interventions and, most likely, mediation of some kind. You will now be determining the next step on your own. It will require time and consultation. As clearly as you stated the purpose of the conversation or meeting at the beginning, now you will state the next step. You will express your disappointment in their refusal to help you understand and to move forward but that you intend to continue to take responsibility for managing the conflict and moving forward. You are communicating that you will not allow the conflict or their refusal to assist in managing it to control the relationship or situation. The next step you will take alone. You will be consulting with others who have expertise or authority in the situation depending on whether it is a person or professional relationship. And then, you will be coming back with a plan resulting from your consultation. It is important to set a timeline for this next step so that they know what to expect and when, and, in case they want to change their mind and contribute to the management or resolution of the conflict.
The Stats are in Your Favor
Conflict is inevitable. Studies show that 85% of employees at all levels deal with conflict to some degree. And almost half of workplace conflict is the result of personality clashes. This means that developing one on one conflict management skills can translate into positive workplace management of conflict as well. Unmanaged conflict costs both employers and employees in lost time and productivity. But training and coaching and experience in managing conflict helps. The same studies indicated that 76% of employees reported a good result when conflict was well managed. Conflict is inevitable. But conflict can be satisfactorily managed. See the article www.conflicttango.com/workplace-conflict-infographic/, and see more information on these statistics at www.conflicttango.com.
If you need help
There are lots of books to read and skills to develop for conflict management and resolution. But there is nothing like personal coaching when it comes to building skill in the process. Objective analysis and personal coaching can make all the difference in the world. Ordinary conflict can build extraordinary skill with the right tools and a good coach. Contact me if you want to take the next step in building your conflict management skills.