Difficult conversations

Many of us avoid conflict when possible, because it is uncomfortable. Conflict is associated with feeling upset, angry, disappointed, or anxious. However, letting conflict go unsettled results in growing feelings of resentment that can eventually explode uncontrollably.

Sometimes we engage conflict with the righteous indignation that our way is right and all others are wrong.  This may address the conflict, but it will not resolve the conflict.  The result of this action will be a fight with no winners, regardless of how you feel afterward.

Sometimes we mediate conflict with compromise where each gives up something to come to common ground.  This seems like a reasonable solution, but in the end, no one is really happy with the resolution agreed to and each feels as if he/she has lost.

A more effective approach to conflict resolution is collaboration.  During the collaborative process, we seek a win-win situation (or as close as possible) by being honest with and vulnerable to one another. To begin effective collaboration, we must identify our self-interests and communicate them with one another.  Common self interests include: looking good/not looking bad, get more time/take less of our time, make more money/lose less money, and experiencing pleasure or good feelings.  Being open and honest about these interests helps us to identify solutions that would constitute a win-win situation.

Next we need to take responsibility for our role in the conflict. Looking at different interpretations of the same problem may help us to see our responsibility more clearly. The fact may be that your report is 2 days past deadline.  Some interpretations may be that you’re lazy, you don’t care about the client, you don’t care about your teammates, or you don’t care about the firm.  Alternative interpretations could be that you’ve been sick with the swine flu, you’re kids are undergoing strenuous cancer treatment, or your spouse is having a breakdown, requiring more attention from you at home.

Either set of interpretations could be true. The only way to find out what is true is to discuss the issue with the person you’re having conflict with.  Putting the problem in the proper perspective mitigates unwarranted blaming and puts you on the road to a viable solution. This helps us get to the root cause of the problem and may even help to mitigate future issues that are similar in nature.