How to Resolve Conflicts Like a Pro
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Aristotle
Conflicts are a necessary part of life — personal and professional — that often compel progress, change, and evolution. In fact, it is my job as an attorney to deal with conflicts all day, every day. After about a decade of practicing law, I firmly believe that most conflicts should be embraced, managed, and defused, often quickly. Below are nine tactics that will help you resolve the majority of your daily conflicts like a pro.
“Between stimulus and response is the freedom to choose.” Viktor Frankl
Remain calm and avoid drama
Avoid exaggerations, embellishments, judgments, or personal remarks. At all costs, remain calm and collected, at least on the outside. Being in control of your emotions is the first step toward taking control of any situation, which makes it more likely that you will resolve any conflicts quicker and more effectively. To this end, recognize and avoid provocation or bait. Biting your tongue and ignoring a provocation or odd personal remark is often the best thing you can do to facilitate a conflict resolution.
“Never cut what you can untie.” Joseph Joubert
Aim to collaborate, not “win”
Winning does not resolve conflicts. “Winning” actually deepens and widens conflicts because it creates clear “losers” and “winners.” Focus on collaboration, solving common problems, and ending the conflict, not winning. In resolving conflicts a “win” has to feel and be mutual for it to be successful. A focus on fairness, reason, and a bright collective future are much more likely to lead to a conflict resolution than a “winning”-focused attitude.
“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.” Peter Block
Just keep inquiring
Misunderstandings and miscommunications underlie a vast majority of conflicts. Asking questions is often the quickest way to resolve a conflict and precisely identify the disagreement. A conflict can only be solved by understanding the issue at hand, which can only arise from active listening and asking relevant questions.
“An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard.” Gene Knudsen Hoffman
Seek to understand everyone’s motivations and expectations
Understanding everyone’s motivations and expectations will help you identify unmet wants and needs that often underlie many conflicts. Moreover, meeting or managing these unmet wants and needs is often key to a successful conflict resolution. Empathy can go a long way in resolving any conflict.
“Every person in this life has something to teach me — and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening.” Catherine Doucette
Learn, listen and empathize much more
Focusing on learning, listening, and empathizing can defuse conflicts naturally because it helps all parties to feel heard and valuable. It also paves a way toward quicker conflict resolution because parties are often more willing to meet each other halfway when they feel heard.
“Every fight is on some level a fight between differing ‘angles of vision’ illuminating the
same truth.” Gandhi
Identify diverse perspectives
People often see the same situations differently, which is a benefit of a diverse workforce. Often, each perspective can be “right,” at least to some extent, under certain circumstances. Thus, one’s ability to recognize the perspectives of others increases the likelihood of reconciliation and collaboration.
“Every word has three definitions and three interpretations.” Costa Rican proverb
Acknowledge your mistakes and forgive others mistakes
Like conflicts, mistakes are also part of life. It is worth understanding what went wrong, where communication has failed, and what assumptions didn’t hold. Focusing on learning from mistakes, not blaming yourself or others, is a more constructive and productive way to resolve conflicts.
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” Max Lucado
Check individual and group emotions
Avoid eliciting extreme emotions such as excitement, fear or anger, individually or collectively. These extreme emotions have a tendency to gain a life of their own and may make it impossible to have a controlled discussion, reach a rational outcome, or resolve conflicts. Instead, have as many stakeholders as possible focus on active conflict resolution as their primary goal.
“A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill
Always seek improvement
Ultimately, conflicts are opportunities to change a status quo, move forward, enrich your life, build closer relationships and become a better version of yourself. These opportunities should be welcomed and embraced, not ignored or fought. The sooner you get comfortable with resolving conflicts quickly and effectively, the more fulfilling the process of resolving conflicts will be. In fact, you may start feeling that times of peace are somewhat eerie, stagnant, unproductive, and unsettling. So, try giving conflicts a chance!
Originally published on Lean In San Francisco/415 Chapter Newsletter, the global startup community.