When was the last time you had a tense situation or conflict arise at work? A comment made by someone at a meeting, and email received that really affected you. Think about that situation for a moment. Did you send an email copying 15 other people on your position? Or did you make a sarcastic comment in response? Whether in the office or at home, managing conflicts is an issue that faces most people on a daily basis. Were you less than satisfied on how you handled yourself? Or do you feel you did everything right, yet the outcome was less than optimal? Managing through conflicts isn’t really about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about finding a workable solution that moves the issue forward. If you want to improve how you manage yourself through difficult situations, gaining awareness is really the first step.
Try stepping out of the situation and watching it as if it was a movie, with the actors, scenes, action, and the underlying scripts. While watching the movie, some of my clients find it easier to see things that they could not see.while being in the movie themselves. What was the thing that set you off? ...
How did it affect you? What was immediately going through your mind? What did you do about it? Through this exercise, my clients can see the actual trigger, which may have been very small, but combined with past experiences and assumptions became a powder keg. We then move to working on understanding what is going on for each actor in the movie, checking assumptions, understanding motivations and beliefs for these actors by stepping into their shoes. Sometimes there are real surprises as we work though this exercise. It may be that the other actor was operating to a completely different script than was assumed by my client, such as having their own constraints and issues that prompted certain behaviors. Also, my clients start to uncover that their beliefs about the other actor have directly affected their own behavior towards that person, causing my client to act in a hostile or less than professional manner even though the movie audience can’t see anything that would have prompted that behavior. Through this awareness, my clients start to see new choices on what they can do differently that may result in a better outcome. As one of the producers in the movie, they often find that re-writing the underlying scripts can dramatically improve how the actors play their roles and create a better movie. After deciding their strategy and tactics, my clients then go into action, monitor themselves and also get feedback on how they are progressing. The satisfaction of improving self-management in the face of conflict has a profound effect on my clients. The words they use to describe this include being in control, non-judgmental, increased confidence, at ease with themselves.
Always Be Nice
There is something to be said about always being polite and respectful of others, even when they behave otherwise towards you. My mother always has told me to be nice, and if the other person isn’t nice, be nice again. Most people laugh when I explain this principle handed to me by my mother and has stayed with me through all these years. It usually derails the effort of another person to get under your skin, and no one can ever say that you have stooped to the other person’s level. It also leaves a positive impression on others on how you handled yourself in the face of difficult or unprofessional behavior.
Keep things professional and don’t get personal if there is a difference of opinion. Keep things clean and focused on the specific behaviors or issues at hand, rather than assumptions about the person, their motivations, judgements about the other person, or other personal opinions that just don’t belong in a professional adult conversation. If the person that is involved in the discussion strays from the issue at hand, gently restate the problem that you are both trying to solve and that you both want to come to resolution on the matter. Don’t sacrifice yourself by responding in an unprofessional manner in kind. The longer-term impression you leave will surely outlive the short-term satisfaction you may get from any such actions.
On another note, clarity can also be an issue when things get heated up. Sometimes a discussion starts and actually, you are not arguing on the same plane or about the same issue. So before you dig your heels in deep to protect your position, check if you both have the same definition of the issue at hand, then identify where you both agree and where are the differences lie in your positions. Sometimes you may find that the gap is not as big as you may have originally thought. Also, seeing the “baby steps” of agreement that you already have can help both of you to become more motivated to solve the remaining pieces. By working in this manner, people are surprised to find themselves sitting on the same side of the table as the person they were about to fight, rather than sitting across the table from each other.
If you are interested in going deeper here, working with a coach can help you understand how you manage yourself though conflicts, gain this insight, and decide on alternative behaviors that you can do to achieve better outcomes. Focusing on the other person’s actions or seeing the situation as a matter of right and wrong only leaves you in frustration.
Feel free to share your experiences on conflicts and how you have managed to get through them!