Last time we looked at two truths:
1> Conflict is unavoidable
2> Conflict is difficult
We then began to look at how to handle relational conflict:
1> Confront a person only if you care for that person
2> Meet together as soon as possible
3> First seek understanding not necessarily agreement
A significant hindrance to positive conflict resolution is having too many preconceived notions going into a confrontation. There’s a saying that the person who gives an opinion before he understands is human, but the person who gives a judgment before he understands is a fool. So, go in prepared to listen and don’t pre-judge.
United States President Abraham Lincoln was well known for his tremendous people skills. He remarked, “When I’m getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third off my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say – and two-thirds thinking about him and what he is going to say.” That is a good rule of thumb. You cannot reach understanding if your focus is on yourself.
As engineer Charles F. Kettering said, “There is a great difference between knowing and understand; you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.”
4> Outline the issue.
When it’s your turn to speak and to make yourself understood, it’s important that you take a positive approach. Here is what I would suggest:
- Describe your perceptions. In the beginning, stay away from conclusions and/or statements about the other person’s motives. Just tell what you think you see, and describe the problem you think it’s causing.
- Tell how this makes you feel. If the other person’s actions make you angry or frustrated or sad, express it clearly and without accusation.
- Explain why this is important to you. Many times when a person finds out that something is a priority to you, that is enough to make him want to change.
Engaging in the process without emotional heat or bitterness is essential. You don’t have to turn off your emotions; you just need to make sure you don’t verbally assault the person you are confronting.
5> Encourage a response.
Never confront others without letting them respond. If you care about people, you will want to listen. Besides, “One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears – by listening to them.” (Politician Dean Rusk).
Sometimes simply having the discussion helps you realize that your perceptions were wrong. Other times you discover that you need to take extenuating circumstances into account. Encouraging a response helps you better understand the person and the problem.
It also gives the other person a chance to process the issue emotionally. Most of the time when you confront people, they will have an emotional reaction. They may be shocked or get angry or feel guilty. They may want to share those feelings with you, or they may not. But no matter what, you should encourage them to give you a genuine response. Why? Because if they don’t have their say, they won’t be able to move toward a resolution to the problem. They will be so focused on their response that they can’t hear anything else.
When confronting people, you will discover the following:
- 50% of the people don’t realize that there is a problem
- 30% of them realize there was a problem, but didn’t know how to solve it.
- 20% realized there was a problem, but didn’t want to solve it.
The bad news is that one out of five people doesn’t want to seek a positive solution. The good news is that 80% of the time there is great potential to solve the conflict.