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Conflict Management 101

When an already difficult conversation decends into conflict, its scary.

When we find ourselves in open conflict with another person, we often tend to lose sight of the root cause of the conflict.

It may very well have originated with us, but, once the conflict with a colleague or superior is set in motion, we seem to suffer from temporary, corporate amnesia—the emotional nature of the conflict clouds our objectivity.

Learning to deal with emotions in negotiations or conflict situations helps us to be more effective, whether in our professional or personal life.

To learn how to deal with conflict, we should first look at what 'drives' conflict.

If we know what causes conflict to occur we can deal with that proactively rather than scrambling to manage the fall out later.


There are 5 main 'drivers' of conflict


Do you feel heard, understood and valued for your point of view?


Are you treated as an adversary and kept at a distance, or are you treated as a colleague?


Do you have the freedom to make a decision without feeling that someone else is telling you what to do?


Do you feel treated with respect, or do you feel diminished?


Do you have a fulfilling or meaningful role in your conflict situations or negotiations?

When you find yourself in a conflict scenario, run these five core concerns in your mind and ask yourself, for example, how you might be failing in letting the other person feel appreciated throughout the interaction; or how you might, unwittingly or not, be diminishing their status, or placing them in a corner in terms of autonomy.

Could you have broadened their role by asking for their advice or recommendations?

Keeping the five concerns in the forefront when you find yourself in a conflict situation can help you manage the emotions in the room.

Conflict of some sort is unfortunately inevitable at some point in your career, so whilst every effort should be made to avoid 'driving' arguments etc. we need to be prepared for this:

Be aware of your role in escalating or de-escalating the conflict

Escalators cause a conflict to quickly intensify.

These are words or phrases we use that have the unintended effect of fueling rather than tempering a situation.

They often start with a “you” statement.

Examples include:

  • “You are making a mountain out of a molehill”

  • “You are too sensitive”

  • “You are taking this personally.”

Escalators are also non-verbal behaviors such as tone of voice, lowering of the eyebrows to indicate disapproval, exchanging a knowing look and smile with someone else in the room or condescendingly patting someone on the shoulder.

Make a list of de-escalators that you can use in difficult situations.

Examples include pausing, genuinely making an effort to listen, letting the other person speak uninterrupted, not telling the other person that they are “wrong.”

You can also take time out by calling for a coffee break or adjourning the meeting.


Help people see the logic behind your argument

Don’t just state what you want without taking the time to give people an explanation of the reasons behind your request.

As Anthony Weston said in A Rulebook for Arguments:

“It is not a mistake to have strong views. The mistake is to have nothing else.”

Spending a little time upfront to paint the picture that helps others see your vision or your idea can be a smart, conflict prevention move.


Let go of your need to always be right

Think about your values.

They may include achievement, status, recognition, power, wealth, family, health, adventure, risk taking, innovation and many others.

Is peace of mind on your list? If not, make it a point to remind yourself periodically of its importance in enhancing the long-term quality of your life.

There are many ways to achieve peace of mind; one of them is to let go of the need to be right at all cost.

Joseph Chilton Pearce said it beautifully:

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”


Don’t lose sight of the higher purpose

In conflict, we sometimes get locked into a staring down contest, waiting for the other party to blink first.

When we do this, we may win in the short-term but it is a vacuous victory.

If you find yourself in this contest of wills, stop and remind yourself not to lose sight of the higher purpose, the greater good.


Don’t lecture

In our zeal to convince others during a conflict discussion, we forget the value of brevity.

Watch that you don’t unintentionally slip into lecture mode.

Most people, including you, experience a lecture as patronising which hinders resolution of the conflict.

State your position succinctly and move on.


Don’t withhold a necessary apology

Many may consider apologising as a sign of weakness when in fact, it is the mark of a great leader.

It takes a big person to have the strength of character and confidence to apologise when the circumstances warrant it.

It may often be one of the quickest ways to end a conflict.

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