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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Communication in Handling Conflict

Handling Conflict
In any relationship there will be conflict at some point. We are all different and will not always agree or have the same perspective. I had an opportunity to speak to someone I'm mentoring a week ago and she is having some challenges with one of her coworkers. She advised that she was going to look up some books on how to avoid conflict. I wouldn't recommend avoiding conflict. I do believe you have to pick your battles sometime, but not all conflict is bad. It's all about your reaction and approach to the conflict. Whether in project teams or your personal life conflict will arise. Here are a few things I've used in the past to help with conflict:

  1. Remove emotion - when you are emotional that will fuel the fire. If you are too emotional to confront the conflict at the time it happens then wait a day or two until you can address it rational. This isn't avoiding the conflict, but rather waiting until you can have a productive conversation to handle the conflict.
  2. State facts - when a conflict arises recap exactly what happened. Don't add or take away from it. Don't try to add in your perception or what you "think" was meant. That only clouds the issue.
  3. Listen, Listen and Listen Again - you have stated your peace now listen to the other side. You might be surprised it was a total misunderstanding because what was said, or done, was perceived incorrectly by you. Listening is power and sometimes just listening resolves the conflict.
  4. Identify the root cause - in order to identify the root cause both parties need to be heard. Both parties need to come to the table with open minds and no biases. If you truly want to resolve the conflict then you really need to to get to the root of the problem. The 5 Whys can be used here to help get to that root cause.
  5. Come to a resolution - the end hope is to resolve the conflict. Hopefully, going through these steps will help you get there.

Dealing with Difficult People 

Now what do you do if the other party doesn't want to play nice? This can be EXTREMELY challenging depending on the setting. Again, you can't control people, only your reaction to them. If you can't resolve the conflict by yourself you may need to bring in an unbiased 3rd party to help. It would be best to choose someone that is far removed from the situation and potentially someone you don't know, but respect.  If the other party isn't open to that, then ask them what they recommend to resolve the conflict? Put the accountability back on them to make a decision. If they can't make a decision and not willing to resolve the conflict you tried. However, now you need to figure out ways to cope and maintain with this person as this unresolved issue can cause a very awkward environment.
Here are some tips I've learned in my career on dealing with difficult people.  Specifically why they may be difficult and some counter actions you can do to work through the madness. 
  1. Power & Control - sometimes people want control and don't want to relinquish that control by admitting they are wrong. How you can counter that is make them feel they have control, by seeking their viewpoint on decisions or ideas. This empowers them and allows them to feel heard. It makes them feel that what they say is valued and they are respected. It takes a lot of energy from you, but it makes your life easier in dealing with the person.
  2. Hidden Agendas - political games or ulterior motives can motivate individuals to not solve conflicts. They have it in their mind what they and they are going to do what it takes to get their way. Again, your response to that is ask for their viewpoint, but in this case you're going deeper with your questions because you are trying no to figure out the hidden agenda. Once figured out you can strategize on how to work around that.
  3. Lack of Self Confidence - it's amazing when others feel horrible about themselves they try to bring that vibe to other people.  Sometimes this can be a power play because people use their lack of confidence in themselves to bring others down, or make others lives difficult.  Sometimes they are doing this to make others feel the pain they are feeling and this is their way to do that. The way you counter this is recognize what the person is doing and not feed into it.  Don't them take you to where they are because once they do you have just fed into that negative energy.  Instead, listen to what they are saying and decipher the TRUE message they are trying to convey.
  4. You're Perceived as a Threat - if you intimidate someone or threaten them their behaviors can show that vulnerability. I actually take this as a compliment sometimes because there is something I posses that someone else admires.  Recognize that you are deemed a threat and communicate in such a way that the other person feels they are being heard and their opinion or words value.  Don't feed into the threat and intimidation distraction.

How Does Communication Fit In This? 

Throughout the conflict cycle communication is key. How you approach the situation, the tone in which you use and the body language demonstrated can all impact the reaction someone else will have toward you.  Your communication style has been to very deliberate and thoughtful  Knowing your audience is key as well because you should tailor your communication to the audience.  This means you need to spend time getting to know the individuals you will be interacting with.  The investment upfront is worth mitigating the pain you could encounter without that investment.