Resolving conflict depends, more than anything, on communication.
We want to be heard by someone else firstly because we believe that we can make that person understand and accept our point of view, and we believe that they will come to the same conclusions we did—if only they would keep quiet and listen to us! If they don’t do this we sometimes feel a frustration and irritation which can easily turn into anger. When two people are angry, conflict occurs.
Effective communication starts with being a good listener. In order to truly understand another person’s point of view you need to make a real effort to listen and to understand. This is very different from simply keeping quiet so that someone can have their say.
Fear is often a big obstacle in conflict resolution: fear of not getting what we want, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing face, fear of losing.
The following strategies and skills will help you learn to resolve conflict amicably. Use them to create win-win situations with your partner, your family, your colleagues, your friends, and during negotiations—with anyone.
Intend to resolve your differences. Conflict resolution should end in a win-win situation for all parties—there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. We often believe that if the other party ‘wins’ they have power over us. It is in fact extremely mature and self-empowering to create a resolution that makes the other party feel like a winner. Go into the negotiation expecting a ‘happy ending’.
Don’t ‘blame and shame’. Do not try to blame or shame the other party. Speak about how you feel, instead of using ‘you’ statements. For example: ‘I feel that I have already given so much …’ is much better than saying: ‘You always expect too much…’. Nobody can deny your feelings; they are your own. Expressing how you feel will help the other party to understand your point of view much better than ‘you’ statements ever would.
Create a win-win situation. During the negotiation, constantly reiterate your interest in the other party’s needs, concerns and views. If the other party feels that they have lost, they may want to retaliate and that could start the entire conflict all over again.
Turn the tables. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes in order to see or experience their point of view. Ask yourself what you would have done if it had been you. This can help defuse a situation. Or get the other party to see your point of view by asking what they would do if they were in your shoes.
Be tactful, and think before you speak. Consider the effect your words will have on the other party. Never deliberately wound or hurt anyone with your words or deeds.
Acknowledge needs and fears. Take note of everyone’s needs, fears and views and make sure that each one is respectfully addressed.
Be fair. Negotiate and compromise. If your intention is to simply grab what you want with no consideration for the other party you will almost certainly lose in the end. You may end up losing the trust of many more people than those you are in conflict with. Others will notice or be told, and they may turn on you or, worse, never trust you again.
Practise ‘matching’. Matching is deliberately lowering your voice. The other person will automatically lower their voice as well, and this will decrease the tension.
Be respectful. Treat other people as equals, and with respect. Display the behaviour you want to see from them towards you. This works like a boomerang—it comes back! People will treat you as you treat them.
Listen actively. Avoid misunderstandings by listening actively to what the other person is saying. Listening involves more than simply hearing the spoken words. You need to apply yourself and make a real effort to understand, acknowledge, and respond. Active listening means that you not only listen to the words being said, but that you are listening to the person’s feelings and to what they mean. To clarify your understanding—especially when you disagree with a statement—paraphrase (repeat) what you heard and wait for confirmation before making your own point.
Keep your emotions in check. Decide that you will not react or respond with emotion. Choose to remain calm so that you can remain in control—of yourself. It really is a choice—your own choice.
Separate the person from the problem. Do not get personal when dealing with an issue or crisis caused by someone—even when you have proof or reason to blame the person for the issue or crisis. By focusing on the situation or the behaviour instead of on the person, you will maintain respect and control. If you become personal, you are likely to offend and hurt others. This can create a breakdown in communication, which will serve only as confirmation of your immaturity and unprofessional conduct. You may end up having to apologise to someone for your behaviour when in fact it was they who had behaved irresponsibly or negligently.
Acknowledge. Make sure that the other person knows that you understand them. Acknowledging that you understand someone does not mean that you agree with them or that you will give them what they want. It means that you understand what they are saying to you.
Use mediation. Mediation is a process for resolving problems between parties when they cannot do this themselves, or when they refuse to. A third party acts as ‘referee’. The process helps participants discuss and resolve issues and heal broken relationships. Sometimes people fight because they don’t know any other way of reacting, and sometimes they simply do not know how to get what they want.
Use arbitration. Arbitration is similar to mediation, but the difference is that an arbiter will make a judgement that the participants have to accept. It is better to resolve a conflict through mediation rather than enter into arbitration, because the parties will probably still have to work together after judgment is given, and they may have become angry and resentful.
Effective solutions and better relationships are achieved through conflict resolution. Actively seeking resolution is proof of emotional maturity and is a sure way of stepping up the corporate ladder. If you truly intend to resolve an issue, you will be willing to use these ideas.
Extracts from Up The Corporate Ladder, written by Elsabé Manning, CEO of Elsabe Manning