Managing Conflict With Confidence: 7 Tips for Getting Unstuck

I was very pleased with the turnout for my conflict session. Many thanks to those of you who sat on the floor or, as this photo indicates, actually stood in the hall to watch my session (I was already on Tip 3 when that was taken!). As I mentioned in Toronto, the handouts I provided contained a basic article I wrote on conflict resolution plus some details about two of the tools, but they didn't list the actual 7 tips that I went over in the session. So here they are. The first three are more about your attitude or stance towards conflict, the second three are more specifically about behavior, and the last one is a challenge. If anyone is interested in me fleshing this out into a full article for one of your publications or speaking on it at a conference, let me know.

1. Know Yourself
Understand your hot buttons and your personal style when it comes to conflict. Knowing things like your Myers-Briggs type can help, particularly looking at the last two letters in your type (T or F, and J or P). TJs are very different in their approach to conflict (get it done) than FPs (let's talk more).

2. Humans Are Emotional. Get Over It.
Brain research indicates that we are emotional before we get a chance to think about it, so I encourage everyone to be more tolerant of emotions in the workplace. It's part of supporting your employees in being human. This doesn't mean nonstop emotional expression, though, the real trick is in recognizing when your brain is getting "hijacked" by the emotional center of the brain.

3. Move Toward the Conflict
Name it early, don't assume it will get better if you ignore it. As in the martial art of Aikido, it's easier to disarm a conflict if you move towards it.

4. Put Learning First (Ask Questions)
Usually in conflict we ask very convergent questions trying to narrow down to the answers that will prove us right. You will get more success, I argue, if you balance that with divergent, open-ended questions that focus on learning and discovering. Even if you see the right answer, ask open ended questions so the other party eventually sees it for themselves. They will be much more likely then to act on the solution (people don't like being told what to do).

5. Value Stories Over Truth (Ladder of Inference)
The truth is not nearly as important as how we make sense of it. The really hard conflicts are not resolved by getting the facts straight, but usually by clarifying and sharing the assumptions, data, and meaning we make of it all. The ladder of inference is the tool that I use to help people get there.

6. Feedback and Requests over Judgment and Demands
Conflict typically involves telling other people they are wrong and need to change. So how's that working for you? A way around this is to focus on giving behavior-impact feedback (you engaged in x behavior and it had y impact on me, the team, the organization, etc.), because that tends to remove the judgment (you screwed up, you made things worse, you hurt me, etc.). Furthermore, when you want someone to change their behavior, frame it as a request, rather than a demand, if you want to keep the problem solving conversation more open.

7. Change you, not them
This final one is my challenge, which is at the end of the day, focus on your own behavior. I know that the other party is typically engaged in behavior that is not working for you (hence the conflict). What they have done or are doing may be terribly wrong and unfair, but one simple fact remains: the only thing you can control is your own behavior. So go first. Make the first change. Figure out what you can do to make things better, and do it regardless of whether the other party responds appropriately. The more each of us simply takes action in the right direction, the better off we'll be.

Thanks again to everyone who came to my session. If you're interested in me doing a session like this at your conference or writing an article, just email me
Let's Talk About Workplace Culture

2 Comments

  1. 21.08.2009 at 12:45 pm

    Great tips for managing conflict. Imagine how much constructive conversation would occur if more people used them!

  2. 21.08.2009 at 6:34 pm

    So bummed I couldn’t sit in on your session. Heard only great things about it (and well deserved!) – that pic of people crowding out the door is awesome.

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