I’m not a fan of conflict. Although sometimes useful, I can fall into the trap of trying to placate others. , If I constantly default to appeasing others, the conflict is rarely resolved and it usually just postpones it. As Simone Smerilli wrote for his blog, “For conflict to exist, there must be a perception of conflict between the parties involved. Conflict can arise from a clash of personalities, attitudes, circumstances. Our ego-driven brains often forget about getting to what’s true as opposed to pursuing “being right.” Every individual is capable of good and evil. There is this seemingly constant tension within each of us.” Conflict is driven by everyone thinking that they are right.
Here are 5 tips for effective conflict:
Ontological Humility. The idea of ontological humility was first introduced to me by Fred Kofman’s book, Conscious Business. As Kofman wrote, “Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict.” In reflecting on most of my training with CRR Global, it was based on understanding everyone has their own truth and that trying to either see their perspective by “standing” in their shoes, or understanding their role or experiencing the bridge the other is trying to cross brings about an empathy of perspective and experience. Or ontological humility. As the CRR Global precept says: Everyone is right… partially.
Identify Behaviors. This comes from Simon Sinek’s FBI model for dealing with conflict. What did the other person or group do to upset you? It’s important to make sure you identify the behavior specifically and not make it personal. So, “Joe, you were late to the meeting yesterday and last Thursday.” Not, “Joe, you are lazy”. Be careful not to speak in superlatives like “always, never and everyone”. So, “Joe, I find you to be sometimes late.” Not, “Joe, you are always late and never on time.” Being specific with the behavior you are trying to address is really important. “Joe, you raised your voice three times at the meeting today.” “Joe, it’s been five days and I haven’t heard a response to my request.” “Joe, you interrupted me several times when I was trying to present.” “Joe, I notice that you rolled your eyes when I suggested you take on the project.” “Joe, there were seven typos in the document.” “Joe, you missed the deadline by seven hours.” This gives important information to the offending party and gives them something tangible to work on.
State Feelings. Whatever Joe did, you need to state how it made you feel. When you state how something made you feel, it’s not debatable. It’s your experience. As Sinek wrote, “Framing problems in terms “I feel”, or “It seems to me that” can be powerful. Not because of its persuasive nature. There is nothing persuasive about it. But because of the state of mind this framing can put us (and the other party) in.” So, if Joe being late made you feel disrespected or diminished or angry or upset, state it. “Joe, when you rolled your eyes when I said my idea, I felt frustrated.” Or “Joe, when you raised your voice three times at the meeting today, I felt on the defensive.” Stating feelings is not the norm, especially in business. It can feel uncomfortable; it’s just so much more productive than either sulking away from the conflict or making the conflict personal by implying judgement “Joe, you are such an ass!” Stating feelings keeps it honest without judgment.
Define Impact. As Sinek espoused, “Define the impact that the behavior of the individual has had on you, your surroundings, the people around you, the broad community or organization.” I can assume that someone knows if I get the report late, then my whole department will be behind on the project and we will miss the customer deadline. It’s rarely explicit what someone’s behavior’s impact is on the organization. Actually, tying even good results to impact is a great idea as well. “Joe, you being on time meant that we were able to get the new customer.” “Joe, your errors on the report caused five hours of extra work for Accounting.” Define the impact in non-judgmental terms.
Going forward. I think that looking forward is a great way to collaborate. So, after you have followed Sinek’s model of Feelings, Behavior and Impact (FBI), talk about how you would like to change things going forward. “Joe, you didn’t show up for the meeting today, I felt frustrated and the impact was that we were unable to make a decision on the widget project. Going forward, what ideas do you have to attend scheduled meetings.” I prefer asking for help in solving the problem since Joe is more likely to follow his own ideas rather than my prescribed solutions. Come to an agreement going forward.
There are other aspects like talking to folks privately, trying not to discuss things, if possible, when angry or triggered, and being OK with silence. I think having a game plan and a concise sentence or two in mind before having a conflict discussion can be invaluable as opposed to improvising. I find Sinek’s model to be relatively simple and easy to remember. What tips do you have to resolve conflict?