This year, as most, I am participating in the Worldwide Business and Executive Coaching Summit (WBECS). Those of you who know me, know that I believe in learning and sharing when it is worth sharing. WBECS opened with a session by Dr. Liane Davey with the title “The Good Fight – Neutralizing Conflict before it starts”.
Conflicts occur in all our lives – professional and private – and choosing to avoid conflicts may provide some sort of peace in our business or personal relationships for a while but when differences remain unaddressed and linger, they can have a lasting impact and weaken relationships.
Conflict is necessary and can be healthy and productive, but it can turn into an unhealthy fight when parties try to solve different underlying issues or when individuals don’t feel heard or understood or when each side gives up rather than jointly moving forward.
So how does an unhealthy conflict, a bad fight, start? The first few sentences in an interaction determine which way it will go. As an example: One party starts with a factual statement, and don’t we all know that facts don’t solve fights. When you put out a statement the other party does not feel part of a potential solution and they may think that you are not interested in their thinking. If their position on the topic at hand is different than the assertion you made you have provided a target for them to aim at.
A WAY FORWARD
Instead, rely on questions when you move into a discussion on a controversial topic, and you help the other party see a way forward. Questions asked with sincere interest show that you are curious and open to listen. Engaging questions such as: “How could we …?”, “What if we …?”, “What would a good solution have to include?”, etc.
So, good open questions instead of statements are your first step. However, if you then don’t listen effectively and respond accordingly, you have not made a single step forward in avoiding conflict. When you don’t listen effectively, the other person does not feel heard and becomes self-protective and gets frustrated and dismissive. Effective listening will help you find out the underlying reasons for the other party’s point of view.
With asking good questions and then listening you also provide validation to the other party, you give credence to the issue and the person. It does not mean that you agree with what they are saying but it will get them to engage with you in finding a way forward. It is the start to a healthy dialogue – a good fight!
What if you are in a situation where someone else is making an assertion and you feel this could be the start of a conflict? Well, all the above applies – you take a deep breath and respond for example with “Interesting thought – take me through your thinking” – and then LISTEN!
I am interested in your experience with conflicts and how you manage to go through them without burning the ground behind you.
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