by Jay Bransford
You and I experience conflict every day of our lives. We experience conflicts with regards to our time, spending money, making decisions, in our relationships at work and home, and everywhere in-between. Conflict is a natural part of life. Thus, the existence of conflict in your life is not necessarily an indicator of how unhealthy your life is. A better indicator might be in looking at HOW you handle and resolve conflict.
9 Suggestions on How to Manage Conflict:
- Anticipate Conflict (Be Proactive). Often times conflict can be avoided if we think in advance about how an upcoming situation, decision or action might affect other people. What kind of response are you likely to have to this upcoming conflict situation? How could you help to lessen other people’s surprise or shock? How could you soften the blow? How can you better incorporate other people’s thoughts and feelings BEFORE speaking, deciding or taking action? How can you prepare yourself to respond in a more professional, caring or wise way?
- Acknowledge Conflict. Identifying the fact that a conflict has started is sometimes half the battle. The longer we take to notice a conflict, the more negative or entrenched a conflict can quickly become and you can risk the conflict getting out of control.
- Change Your Attitude Toward Conflict. Once you acknowledge the conflict, it’s critical to say so and to CHOOSE to have a positive attitude toward the conflict. If you think of conflict as a time waster or as a terribly painful chore, you are likely to bring that same negative attitude into resolving the conflict. But if you think of conflict as a great opportunity for making progress, understanding and valuing others, building consensus and unity, and making the best possible group decision, then you are likely to work toward achieving those actual results.
- Seek First to Understand Others. Before you let loose with your tongue and explain to the other person every clear and obvious reason why your way is right or best, humble yourself and let the other person speak first. Allow them to express their thoughts, ideas, needs, concerns, and questions. Let their side be told. Let them get it all out.
- Show That You Listened and Understand. Wait! It’s still not yet time to share your amazing wisdom with the world. First, demonstrate to the person or people that you truly heard them. Nod your head. Give appropriate eye contact. Provide an occasional verbal acknowledgement like ‘yes’ or ‘ok’ or ‘alright’. Write down what they said (preferably on a flipchart, when possible). Paraphrase or summarize what they said.
- Admit What You Agree With. As you summarize what they told you, highlight the things that you agree with them about. Make sure they understand that you both have areas of agreement. Believe it or not, this can help tremendously in avoiding them thinking that you are 100% against them and everything they stand for.
- Add in Your Needs and Perspective. Now it’s finally your turn to explain your perspective. Using key words like “And”, “Also”, “In Addition”, and “I Wish”, try to add to things that they have already said and that you agree with. For example, you could say, “In addition to your idea of holding the event on a Friday evening, which I think is a great idea, it would also be wonderful if we could avoid holding it on a day where the school has a sports game.” Add to the list of needs and options that the other person already verbalized. You may also need to respectfully explain any different perspectives you have about some of the concerns or possible options that others have suggested.
- Propose and Be Open to Creative Solutions. Now that you can see the needs and ideas of everyone involved with the situation, suggest the idea of considering some creative solutions or alternatives. Let everyone get creative, but take a rational look at the suggestions according to the felt needs everyone has expressed.
- Re-affirm the Importance of the Relationship. Hopefully by now you have been able to come to a conclusion that is acceptable to everyone involved and you have successfully managed this conflict! Before you part ways for the day, make sure you acknowledge to everyone how much you value and appreciate them. After all, life is about relationships, not about always getting exactly what you want, right?
Think about an existing or recent conflict situation you have faced and then re-read through the 9 suggestions above.
- What do see as your strengths in managing conflict?
- In which areas could you improve?
Try printing out this list and using it to walk through your next conflict situation today. You may be surprised how much it can help!