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To err is achingly human. And hence, conflicts happen in almost every relationship. It’s part of the dynamics that comes with real human interactions. In fact, can you think of any relationship in your own life that hasn’t seen its share of conflict (and grown from it)?
We reckon not!
There, we’ve established that conflicts are not necessarily a *bad* thing; they indicate that a relationship is alive, and possibly even thriving. But to allow them to continue without resolution is definite relationship suicide. So whether you’re working to resolve a conflict you (partly) created or you find yourself as the volunteered arbitrator between two third-parties, having rock-solid Conflict Management skills to smooth things over is an undeniable asset in your relationship toolkit.
It’s also an asset you consciously develop.
Our default conflict management “strategy” (if you could call it that), is the fight or flight response. When faced with a potentially unpleasant situation, our animal instincts take over. But that’s hardly an evolved response!
In this post, we give you 10 (conscious) conflict management techniques. You may use them in your personal life to elevate your interactions with those dearest to you, or you may use them at work to build strong professional partnerships. The intent is for you to be equipped to constantly come out a winner!
Conflict Management Techniques;
Whatever you do, don’t react. Let us re-iterate that:
Do. NOT. React. EVER!
(It’s that important a tip.)
Remember, your first reaction IS the fight or flight addiction. And this makes you an animal: an uncouth and unpredictable animal. Gulp!
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You’re going to win no wars with this mindset, so ruthlessly ditch your first reaction (and perhaps the second and third one two). Instead, consciously choose to walk away.
We understand that this is easier said than done, especially when you’re an intrinsic part of the (conflict management) situation and feel overwhelmed by emotion. But we tell you, there’s a definite gladness in walking away from it all (for the moment), even as the other party continues to mutter and stutter.
Peacemaker’s Tip: This is useful advice even when you’re playing the amicable third party. Don’t react based on your initial judgments; you could end up supporting the erring side, or worse, alienate both sides!
Feel OUT those pesky emotions
Have you ever been (unfortunately) privy to a really bad day, when it seemed like the cosmos was aligning itself to shake you up? Let’s see how this goes…
You wake up late and notice the alarm’s out of batteries. Darn dollar-store batteries! You rush to have a bath and wing it to office on time, but your roommate’s beaten you to the bathroom. Double darn! Might as well grab some coffee…. if there’s coffee mix in the house. Doesn’t anyone buy any grocery these days? You’re frustrated and need your coffee!!
Well, the cosmos is here to get you out of your coffee frustration. So it nicely sends out your (not-so-nice) neighbor, who chose that day to complain about your garden shrub overshooting his compound. So you spend the next 20 minutes cajoling/ arguing/ yelling until you have a raging headache. FIRST conflict of the day…
Fine, whatever! You rush to the bathroom only to notice that your roommate’s still enjoying his/her shower. You bang and yell some more until he/she comes out and you have yet another raging fight that lasts even longer. SECOND conflict of the day… And it continues. God, will this crazy day never end!!!
We’ll tell you what we observe differently in this situation: Your *first* conflict began not with your neighbor, but with your own self, when you discovered you overslept. That anger then transformed into frustration (with your roomie) for being forced to wait. And let’s not even get into your coffee addiction gone wrong; all those hangover emotions!!
That is the root of any conflict: emotions that hang over from previous situations. Conflicts arise when you choose to share (and spread) your negative emotions.
If you want to train yourself with darn good conflict management skills, the first step is to feel OUT those pesky emotions until you’re rid of them. Coz at any point, you can only feel one “type” of emotion here, positive or negative. And this trend continues until you (consciously) do something to intervene.
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In fact, this is perhaps the first thing to do after a conflict. Don’t react; get away by yourself and get it all out until you cross over to the other side. Only then can you come up with a successful plan for resolution. If you can follow this one step in all your associations, conflict management will come naturally to you.
Peacemaker’s tip: As a third-party in a conflict’s resolution, you have an excellent opportunity to get either party out of any (initial) negative reaction. Simply listen to their rant (without contributing), until they run out of steam. Once they’re done voicing their emotions, they’ll have the mental space to listen to your point of view and work towards resolution.
Watch your reflection at work
We’re going to quote a leading Enlightened Master Paramahamsa Nithyananda here when we say,
“You always see the world the way you are, not the way the world is.”
We’re not playing Zen-speak here, but leading you to a practical tip to resolve your conflicting situation!
If you’ve had a chance to play a peacemaker during conflict, you’re sure to have noticed how the each party mimics the other. When one party attacks, the other plans his counter-attack. When one party calms down (even for a bit), the other side also sort-of calms down. And this tennis match continues until any one decides to end the conflict, and the other accepts.
The conflict sustains when neither party gives in. But see, here too, they are mimicking and reflecting each other. Even in conflict, they are gloriously in sync!!
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If you wait for the other to give-in first, you’ll end up waiting, quite uselessly, for a long time! (Unless, the other side turns out to be a leader at conflict management and willingly turns things around). But either way, YOU, have lost!
If you want to become a leader in conflict management, stop chasing the last word IN. Instead, choose to drive the conflict OUT. This doesn’t mean that you “give-in” every time; it simply means that you choose to end conflict. Post this, you can still get your point of view across and cleverly win the game.
Deal with yourself first, then the other
What we’ve been doing so far is helping you internalize this one supremely essential tip to master conflict management. Deal with YOURSELF, first.
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We can give you a whole slew of techniques and phrases to use to aid conflict management. But your personal success or failure with these techniques will boil down to one pertinent question:
Do YOU, WANT to resolve the conflict?
You see, you should first want resolution (and not retribution). If you really want this, you will find a way to make it happen. You will do whatever it takes FOR conflict management and resolution.
This cannot happen as long as you focus on the other party involved. With them involved, your first instinctual reaction is a vehement “NO,” coz you’re more likely to feel the wounded party (a stance that even the other side mimics/ feels). Only with time (and perhaps circumstantial coercion) will you turn the corner.
Or, you can (consciously) choose to want it. (Why drag a conflict? It will only bring down your energy, and your reputation.)
This choice naturally happens when you withdraw from the conflict and deal with yourself first.
Note: From here, it gets a LOT easier. You not only find the techniques (and intention) for conflict management, you also find the way to resolve it to your direction of choice.
Yes, you’re now poised to take the driver’s seat. Broadcast this by taking ownership.
This happens when your sentences start sounding like “I can/ will/ …”, rather than “You should/ must/ must-not …”
- “I understand…”
- “I empathize with you…”
- “I see where you’re coming from…”
The onus here is to take the focus away from finger pointing (a futile exercise that leads to more blame-games). When you turn your finger towards yourself, the other’s attention is momentarily arrested so you now have the space to cleverly place your (re)solution.
Attack the problem, never the personality
At this point, it’s okay for you to express your (still conflicting) opinion. But retain responsibility for your thoughts and feelings while you attack the problem, and not the personality.
- “I see where you’re coming from. BUT, this is challenging for my team.”
- “I empathize with you. BUT, there’s still the impact to the project.”
In any conflict, the real problem arises from 2 opposing views on the same situation, never 2 persons. But as long as you focus on the person (who you consider an opponent in conflict), the real problem conveniently lays hidden.
Think it’s too much? Let’s consider this with an example.
A large construction site enforced safety standards for all its crew. The new project manager was adamant that these standards be followed, under all circumstances. His intention was simple: SAFETY first, always. On the other hand, the construction crew had been trained by the previous manager to work for a different paradigm: BUDGET first, always.
So when they ran short of helmets or safety harnesses, they simply made-do without it rather than pester the manager for more funds. As you can imagine, this led to frequent conflict between the new manager and his crew, as neither understood (or even listened) to the other’s point of view. The funny thing was that both parties actually intended to help the other. The crew worried about the manager’s budget constraints, and the manager himself was more worried about his crew’s safety. They cared about each other, but were unable to express it right coz they were trying to do the other’s job!
What do YOU think is the real problem here: the new manager’s insistence on the safety of his crew, or the crew’s respect for the manager’s (initial) budget? Neither! The conflict arose simply because of 2 opposing points of view so neither party got the full picture. If they had stopped to consider the reason for the other’s point of view, they would have moved to everybody-wins conflict management resolution in mere seconds!
If you too can single handedly focus on this, you will automatically invite the other party to reflect you too. From this space of mutual consent, a win-win solution can be found.
Be willing to compromise
The word ‘compromise’ is often misunderstood as a weak stance, rendering you powerless against your opposition. In a conflict management scenario, nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider that you had a major argument at work with a colleague from another team. You had conflicting point of views, and each chose to stick to his viewpoint as it’s all about being RIGHT!
Post the argument, you walk to your senior manager’s office (who’s incidentally your favorite manager) thinking that you will be unconditionally supported. And you think, “Just watch. I’m going to report this conflict and get the other person reprimanded. I’m going to show him/her who is boss!”
It’s not going to happen!
Third-parties (and peacemakers) are aware enough to catch any party that is being stubborn in being right. This is the ego at play and wins you no supporters or brownie points during conflict. Becoming open to compromise is to let go of this stubbornness. This is the only key to unlock a win-win resolution, the only working solution that can come out of clear conflict management.
Back your opponent
I bet this one caught your attention.
How the heck can you “back” your opponent, the one who is on the other side??
Well, if you’re still sticking with that attitude, we suggest you go back to repeating steps 1-8, until you truly are ready for a compromise. This compromise can happen only when you also decide to let the other party win (remember, win-win solution).
Besides, what do you think will happen to other party when you suddenly go, “I understand your situation. How can I help you fix it and win?”
Yep, for a short while, he’s going to be shocked… pleasantly surprised… victorious, and THEN, he’s going to mimic and reflect your action. This brings us to the next step…
Shoot for what YOU WANT
This is the winning solution you want from conflict management and resolution. But, you have to play it right and save it for the last.
See, once your opponent has “won,” in his language, he has nothing else to fight for. Why would he continue to fight you? He will graciously let you win too.
Most conflicts continue simply because we don’t have the strength of mind to deal with the previous steps. But if we can patiently last through it, we will have become an absolute master at conflict management, not only to resolve conflict, but to drive home the winning solution (for you).
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Celebrate the solution
Finally, it’s your response to the solution that decides whether the conflict has indeed been resolved, or has only been suppressed to erupt later.
A conflict management leader continues to make the best use of all ends. Even if the final solution was not exactly as per your initial intention, you now have a new asset in your toolbox – your erstwhile opponent has now turned into a potential friend!
This is the real winning solution that comes from any good conflict management resolution: to create even stronger human interactions.
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