What is conflict? Definitions vary wildly – from a difference of opinion to an all-out confrontation.
Wherever you find yourself on that broad spectrum, it’s well worth stopping to think about how you handle conflict. Why? Because we tend to default in tricky situations – and often in ways that aren’t helpful. And as differences of opinion – and more extreme forms of conflict – are pretty much an everyday occurrence at work, we can all benefit from having some handy tools in the kit to deal with it. Try these 10 tips:
- Notice your responses. Are you thinking, “Oh no, not him/her again”, before the person’s even finished what they’re saying? Or is there a particular situation that hits your hot buttons? We all have hot buttons and allowing them to be hit drastically reduces our ability to handle conflict well. So first, notice what you’re feeling and thinking.
- Breathe! No, not huffing and puffing, but deeper and slower breathing than normal (without the sound effects). When our hot buttons are hit we experience a raised pulse rate, so slow it down with a deep breath or three.
- Ask respectful questions. Avoid “why?” as it can come over as too challenging. Yes, you may need to find out why; just use any other form of words to do that. “What’s the thinking behind that?”, sounds very different to “Why have you done this?”
- Listen very carefully to others’ responses. It’s vital you understand what’s going on for the other person. What’s important to them here?
- Explain what’s important to you. Be as succinct as you can, with reasons why. Don’t assume other people ‘just know’.
- Observe body language. Your own body language in conflict situations may give a bad impression. Relax the shoulders and jaw and rein in the jabbing hand gestures. Notice others’ body language when there’s a difference of opinion.
- Use ‘grounding’ techniques to stay in the here and now. Very often we unconsciously re-run old feuds and patterns. Staying grounded helps us stay in the present situation. Get hyper-aware of what you can see, hear and feel, right here and now.
- Call an adjournment if things are really getting over-heated or nasty. Both parties will need time to calm down. But don’t use this to duck the issue: when you agree to adjourn, be clear about when you’ll reconvene.
- Decide. Sometimes you might want to concede because you know you’re outnumbered, or you want to bank points for another time. You may not have much time and need to compromise. Or you may decide an all-out challenge is the only way to go. Aim for more collaboration more of the time – if compromise is sharing the pie, collaboration is jointly baking a bigger and better one.
- Reflect to learn. Take a moment afterwards to notice what worked, what didn’t and what you’ll do differently next time.
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