It’s impossible to avoid conflict at home, at work, in life in general. It’s impossible to choose whether or not to have conflict, we can only choose how to respond in the face of a conflict. We can deny, avoid, give up, or walk away, but those actions leave our problem unresolved which can lead to resentment, inaction and sometimes guilt. What if we could come up with a creative and collaborative resolution instead?
First, let’s dissect conflict. If you prefer chocolate ice cream and I prefer vanilla, there is no conflict. We have our own preferences. Agreeing to disagree is fine. If we can only afford to buy one flavor, we have a conflict because scarcity is involved. The conflict turns to an operational one when we can only buy one flavor.
Resolving conflict takes many of our best skills, a willingness to listen and inquire, ability to advocate for what we want, and to make our opinions clear. First and foremost we must always consider the personal component. It is important to remember the relationships and personal concerns of those involved. One of the most common errors in conflict resolution is to forget about these two levels and jump directly to negotiating the task. Setting the context of the conflict and our desire to resolve it in a mutually beneficial way that preserves your relationship can go a long way.
Once you have addressed the emotional component as best you can, resolving the conflict at the operational level is next. Going to deeper concerns can help both parties determine what they really want. Identifying what is rigid and what is flexible can help. Asking yourself and the other person what is more important to you than the thing itself. For example, if you found yourself in a conflict about priorities for your team, asking the person (with whom you disagreed) what was important to them about their choice, could help you understand what they really care about. They might care more about meeting the schedule than adding another feature to your product. Having that information could allow you to find an alternative you will both be happy with.
There are times when we cannot resolve a conflict on our own. At that point, we can agree to a formal consensus mechanism. This could be majority rule, arbitration or deferring to a manager. This is only to be used in extreme cases as a last alternative.
Effective negotiation brings people together. Organizations capable of navigating and resolving their conflicts creatively and collaboratively can create new realities, generate authentic relationships, and add value to our clients.
Majority rule is four wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. -Anonymous