Just because I am right, it does not necessarily mean that you are wrong. We are all faced with conflict at some point in our lives. Most of us perceive conflict as something negative. However, my thinking is that conflict does not have to be negative, nor should it be. Conflict can actually be good! Many people might view that last statement as strange, because for them conflicts are something that should be avoided at all costs. Others view conflict like a sport, to them it’s a game to be played so they can WIN. Changing the way we view conflict is key to conflict management, especially in the workplace.
How We Make Decisions
My view is that a healthy discussion, and even debate, over disagreements leads to better decisions. The problem lies when we take a position and believe in the merits of our story. We believe our position is right, and therefore the other person must be wrong. There is merit in what we believe, because we did not develop our opinions out of thin air. We have facts to support our views, we have thought through the options, and we believe we have made the best decision.
All of that sounds logical, so what is the problem? The problem is that other people have different experiences, and apply different background stories to the facts. Their experiences provide them with different points of view, which may allow them to project different outcomes. Their opinions did not materialize out of thin air either!
If both parties simply argue to defend their positions, the conflict will turn ugly. Relationships can be destroyed, because someone is bound to win, and someone else will lose. There is a strong possibility decisions will made based on power, rather than merit. Sometimes, the decision may even end up in a compromise. While I’m not suggesting that compromise is a bad thing, it may not be the best way to decide on an important issue.
The question becomes, how can we better manage conflict? I believe the first step is to reframe the position that conflict is bad. It certainly can be, but it does not have to be. We can arrive at the conclusion that conflict handled properly can provide more information on which to base decisions. Conflict, properly managed, can also lead to better relationships. Below we explain the first step in managing conflict.
Listen With the Intent to Understand
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you will recognize a consistent theme. The art of listening to understand others is the key to developing relationships. It is also the key to managing conflict. If we take the time and make the effort to understand where another person is coming from, we gain additional information and insight into the problem.
It is critical to understand the other person’s position from their point of view. It allows you the opportunity to alter your own argument to a position where they may better understand your points. When the other party to feels heard, before arguing points and debating positions, it also helps to disarm hostility. This creates smoother negotiations and preserves relationships during conflict management.
In summary, listening to understand an adversary during conflict provides the following benefits:
1. A better understanding of the other person and where they are coming from
2. More information on which to base a decision
3. Insight into which tactics may be beneficial
4. Disarms the adversary allowing for easier dialogue
These four simple points are worth the effort. They are what lead to better decisions, and better relationships. In future articles, we will describe the conflict resolution process with more examples of actual conflicts that resulted in better decisions, and better relationships. Keep reading our blogs for new insight into the conflict management process.