June works for a company that develops software applications to help organizations track their sales. Because she is involved with the implementation and troubleshooting of her company’s product, she knows what parts of the product could be improved or upgraded to further meet their customers’ needs. June has kept accurate accounts of customer complaints of her company’s software. She recently approached her manager to share clients’ concerns and to make recommendations for improving the software. When she did so, she was rebuffed and told to stick to doing implementation and to let the IT team handle development issues. She tried several times to offer her insights, but the more she tried, the more harshly she was criticized and put off by her manager. June finally quit trying.
Any conversation that has the potential for conflict is a conversation that people generally avoid. Conflict can occur any time there is a disagreement over a course of action. Conflict may also arise when someone perceives that another party is trying to keep them from getting what they want. Additionally, conflict can occur when a person thinks that they will lose something that is important to them. Whenever there is potential for conflict, one’s perception usually leads to an emotional outburst or reaction that obscures the real issue and sends people running for cover.
Conflict occurs because of the perception of violated values on the part of each individual in the conversation. In order to deal with conflict more effectively, there are a number of steps you can take that will increase the likelihood that you can successfully reach a resolution.
Recognize and suspend your thinking. The resolution to conflict can only occur when you stop pushing your point of view and try to understand the viewpoint of the other person. Many people find this difficult to do because they believe if they give up pushing for their position, the other person will gain the advantage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking the time to understand the other person’s issue completely will help you to understand where there are mutual points of agreement. Increasing your understanding of their perspective will also help you to understand how and where you need to share vital data that will support your point of view.
Manage the emotion. Yours and theirs. If you can’t keep your cool, then the conversation is doomed before it even begins. If you place your focus on the other person in the conversation and really listen to understand their point of view, that will help you from engaging emotionally. If the other person becomes emotional, ask them questions that lead to self-reflection and force them to think carefully about the issue. This will help to quell a potential emotional reaction.
Frame the conversation. This serves as an acknowledgement of the disagreement, acts as an affirmation of your commitment to reach a resolution, and solicits their involvement in the process. For example, “I can see that we don’t agree on this issue, and yet, I am committed to finding a solution that will work for us. Will you work with me to see what we can learn from each other and to try to develop a solution?” This is a reasonable request and should invite a reasonable response.
Follow the strategy. There are four components to understanding and resolving a conflict: facts, assumptions, goals, and values. Each party in the conflict will have different facts that they focus on, which will lead to different assumptions about what is possible. The goal or objective usually comes under fire in the conversation because one or both parties perceive that the other is trying to keep them from accomplishing their goal. Having a clear understanding of what each party is trying to achieve is essential to resolving the conflict. Finally, it is important to understand the other person’s values that underpin their goals and objectives. You can easily surface an individual’s values by asking for the “why” behind the “what.” For example, ask, “What do you want?” Follow their answer by asking, “Why?” The answer to the “why” question will help you identify the person’s value.
Ask questions to seek understanding. Before you share your facts, assumptions, goals, and values, ask questions to get the person to share their perspective first. This allows you the luxury of understanding where you might agree or disagree before you share your perspective. Also, by asking and listening to them first, you increase the likelihood that they will listen to you. Remember to begin the conversation where they want to begin. For example, if your counterpart begins by sharing their assumptions, then begin the conversation there. However, you will want to circle back and identify the facts that gave rise to their assumptions. Ask enough questions that you understand their facts, assumptions, goals, and values.
Demonstrate your understanding. Once you believe that you have totally understood the other person’s perspective, summarize what they have said. This allows you to demonstrate how clearly you have understood. It also gives them a chance to correct you, clarify details or misunderstandings, and to add anything that they may have left out.
Listen for violated values. “Hot” or negative emotion is the symbol of a violated value. When your counterpart starts whining, complaining, or blaming, listen for the positive value hidden within the negative statement. For example, if someone said, “That will cost way too much!” You know that the person values frugality or using financial resources wisely. If you are unsure of the value simply ask them something like, “If I understand correctly, you believe that we should be more cost conscious.” Remember that the conflict usually arises because of breached values. Identifying values is crucial if you ever hope to reach resolution.
Avoid the use of “you.”Using the word “you,” particularly at the beginning of a sentence, may be interpreted as blame or accusation. Make a conscious effort to describe the situation from an objective perspective. If a person shares their set of facts, you undoubtedly know additional information that needs to be shared to more completely understand the situation. You would begin sharing those facts by stating, “Here are some other things to consider that may help in making a decision.” Then share those facts without making any reference to them or their omission of those facts.
Collaborate to create a solution. If you can identify the values that each individual has, then the shared understanding of those values will allow you to create a solution that addresses as many of those values as possible. The challenge in this part of the conversation may be to prioritize which values are most important. During the discussion of priority, it is important to adopt a broader perspective of what you are trying to accomplish. When an impasse occurs, it is possible to refocus perspective when both parties remember the ultimate goal is achieving a shared resolution.
Conflict doesn’t have to be avoided. Conflict needs to be embraced in order to understand it. By giving up the idea of losing, adopting a spirit of curiosity and learning, and seeking to understand the values hidden within the disagreement will help you create a viable solution. Taking a step-by-step approach to increasing your understanding of the issue will greatly enhance your ability to craft a more comprehensive and collaborative solution.
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