By: Amy Wirtz
“The challenge within any relationship, professional or personal, is not to avoid conflict or even be free of conflict, but to be able to engage with conflict in honest, respectful and courteous way.” Rob Parsons, author and mediator.
Conflict is a natural part of life and when handled correctly can be productive for a business and a family. Consider the significance that Conflict is a noun and a verb. Conflict used as noun is “A serious disagreement or argument, typically protracted.” while conflict as a verb is “To be incompatible or at variance or clash”. See Oxford Dictionary. How can someone be alive and never experience conflict? That is simply unrealistic. Instead, we need to validate conflict as being appropriate and teach our youth and employees to not be ashamed of this state of being, but ultimately how to productively utilize conflict to solve problems. Here are 3 basic aspects to always keep in mind:
When Conflict Arises Within Relationships.
- The impact of conflict depends how it is handled.
- Management of conflict by avoidance is destructive.
- It is up to you to take the initiative to seek a constructive result.
The Impact of Conflict Depends on How it is Handled.
I grew up in a family where the starting rule my father created was “Do it my way or hit the highway”. However, as I grew older we would have a “family meeting” when there was a repeating problem/conflict in the family governance we would then try to discuss why there were competing interest and how to solve it. Our family grew personally and as a group from this.
Management of Conflict by Avoidance is Destructve.
Today I observe a general sense that conflict is a negative thing. Parents seem to manage conflict by avoidance. This is not helping our children. Who is assigned what chores and why could be a place where we can teach our children how to handle competing interests. This is an essential life skill for them individually and also within the health of the family.
In our business organizations, we actually are suffering from a lack of conflict and a culture of conflict avoidance. Neil Denny in his book Conversational Riffs, cites a study done by Begbie Traynor, a turnaround company, that nine out ten managers hide bad news from their directors for fear of negative consequences to their own careers. The withheld information means that the board of directors or advisors were not being given the opportunity to face problems head on and create solutions that would help with a positive trajectory for the company.
It is Up to You to take the Initiative to Seek a Constructive Result.
I believe that if a relationship is worthy of your time and commitment, then you must productively engage in difficult conversations in order to solve conflicting interests or repeating “riffs” in the language of a relationship. By leaning into productive conflict we can do the following:
- Keep relationships from deteriorating,
- Engage in respectful and constructive conversations,
- Create solutions out of tension,
- Be proactive and intervene in work situations before they become crises,
- Keep key employees, customers and vendors, and
- Assure those you work with that they should not fear bringing up difficult issues with you and feel comfortable engaging in a challenging conversations that create solutions not confrontations.
You might find it helpful to compare arguing to musical riffs. You have probably experienced arguments having a consistent and predictable repeatable riffs within your relationships. Some are like the pop music songs with nonsense words and predictable music repeats.
How many times have you had the same argument over and over with your Dad, Mom, Manager or child? I know I have a consistent and predictable argument with my children every Saturday on chore day. It is because conflict and events repeat themselves.
The question is, “How do I change my response to the conflict so that a resolution can finally be accomplished?” Neil Denny teaches that we innately reply to conflict with these repeating “riffs”: 1) Attack, 2 ) Defense, and 3) Counter-Attack because we have not had the opportunity to learn new communication techniques. He encourages his readers to learn to invite and encourage debate or differences, learn to consider and listen different perspectives, and be open to find what you do agree upon and be able to truly accept that you can agree to disagree.
I am a trained mediator and collaborative lawyer with many hours of additional education hours above and beyond college and law school specifically on the issue of conflict resolution. My work all day every day is conflict resolution. Even with all these years of experience and hours of education, it is still difficult to apply the theory to every day personal relationships. But I have learned there are some basic steps for you to use in conflict management:
Basic Steps for You to Use In Conflict Management
- Take a deep breath and let it out slow before you respond. When people are in a tense situation we often stop breathing which has negative consequences for cognitive thinking. Often conflict erupts in a very reactionary and inappropriate way. Think of parenting a teenager and our initial reaction is to send them to their room for a cooling off period. This is a great way to make them slow down and breathe and rethink their choices and decisions.
- Stay away from personalization of the issue. A better way to say this is try to separate the people from the problem. This is from Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury. Ask the investigatory questions: who, what, and why with genuine curiosity.
- Stay away from absolutes in your language choices. Telling an employee they never get a project done on time is usually not accurate and if it is, there are bigger issues at hand that need real examination on a managerial level. Absolute language inflames the receiver and takes away the person’s ability to control his or her behavior.
- A normal and ingrained response to personal attack is defensiveness. The alternate way I encourage you to do is acknowledge that the other person is upset and ask if you can revisit the issue after a five minute break or if you can schedule a meeting to discuss the issue at hand. Then suggest you each bring three ideas to the meeting to problem solve the issue to the meeting.Following these rules will enable you to take the initiative toward a constructive resolution. I think you will find it very rewarding.