What’s conflict and how do you deal with it?

It isn’t a question that conflict is unavoidable.  Plans don’t go as scheduled, personalities clash, everyone’s tired… whatever it is, there’s a disagreement, and you need to know how to soothe the tension to get everyone back on track.

Conflict is a clash or a disagreement that inhibits progress.  It can stem from an infinite amount of sources, and, bottom line, it keeps things from getting done.  It’s also expensive; whether money-wise or relationship-wise, it’s unnecessarily costing you.

The most important thing to know is that you have the power to diffuse conflict.  Now, you may not be able to turn everyone’s feelings into those of Christmas Day—but sometimes, the only thing that’ll mend bad feelings is the clock.  There’s the potential for disagreement in almost everything you partake in: at the DMV, on a project, or on the internet.  Knowing how to pacify an argument is an infinitely useful skill and vital for fortifying good leadership skills.  I’m not an expert at solving conflict situations, but I have experience with a bunch that I feel I’ve learned a lot from.  Here’re the top tips I’ve learned for diffusing disagreements:

1.  Empathy is key, so try to understand: It’s easy to think in terms of right and wrong in a world of black and white.  So, cue empathy: your best friend when dealing with a dispute.  When you work to understand what and why the other person is thinking differently, you’re exercising the precursor to compromise.  As long as both of you continue to think that the other is wrong, you’ll never get anywhere.  This isn’t the time to be stubborn; it’s the time to be open-minded and caring about what the other person thinks.

2.  Communicate respectfully: Saying what you feel is important, because leaving things unsaid can either lead to an unhelpful compromise, or it can just lead to you feeling unheard.  And both are avoidable if you just say what you mean.  If you’re not talking about what’s bothering you specifically, that person will never know and won’t be able to help you solve the problem.  Bottom line, “Say” by John Mayer has the message you’re after.  On a separate but related topic, make your respect towards who you’re talking to evident.  I’m not saying you have to curtsy when you see them, but keep this in mind: you both win by talking it out, but as soon as you call the other person names, you’ve lost.  If you want the conversation towards a place of betterment, keep in mind that people don’t respond well to being talked to like they’re nothing.  The objective of compromise isn’t to make the other person realize that they’re wrong or right, but it’s instead to come to an agreement that satisfies both of you.

3.  Don’t be afraid of confrontation: Confrontation often gets this reputation that you have to bring swords to this battle of who’s typing the report or whose house you’re staying at for the holidays (or whatever the source of conflict is).  Confrontation doesn’t have to be scary; it can lead to positive, constructive outcomes if executed a certain way.  I won’t pretend I don’t understand how confronting someone can be intimidating and uncomfortable; sometimes, it feels like you’re calling someone out, or you’re afraid of how the person will react to what you’re saying.  Granted, in my experience, it’s been that how someone reacts to being confronted is more in your delivery than what you’re saying.  Being calm and respectful in your approach is the easiest way to drive anger out of their response.

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to Hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” ~Winston Churchill

4.  Figure out what the exact issue is:  Simply put, you’re going to put at least one conversation into talking about the issue you’re disagreeing about.  If you’re not actually talking about the problem, or you’re pretending that it’s something else that’s bothering you, your progress is significantly diminished.  This goes back to advice #2: if you want to solve the issue, talk about that issue.

5.  Listen and pay attention:  Value what the other person is telling you; if they’re genuinely explaining what bothers them, then it probably means they want to fix the problem, too.  When you listen, you learn.  When you talk, you inform.  In solving conflict, there’s a nice balance between listening and talking that’ll give you your best outcome.  Listening  and observing closely to a person can also give you clues to what they’re thinking, even if they won’t tell you—their pitch, body language, and mannerisms can give you a much better look into how they feel, because those unconscious gestures give more insight than conscious word choice can.



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