There’s no escaping the reality of conflict at work. Whether you’re a new leader having to confront poor performance issues, or a seasoned leader having to protect your organization’s interests as you negotiate with an over-dominant customer, in order to be successful, you’re going to have to be skilled at engaging in conflict.
Running away is not an option!
Fundamentally, there are two kinds of conflict: productive or destructive.
The reason many people shy away from conflict is because they’ve witnessed or experienced the painful effects of destructive conflict. Poorly managed conflict is costly, so getting conflict right, and keeping it productive, is supremely important. Productive conflict yields transparency, where people don’t swallow or hide their true opinions and perspectives. Productive conflict creates shared accountability where people don’t fear confronting teammates who aren’t carrying their weight or are not upholding the organization’s values. Productive conflict is good business. It just takes courage on your part!
Conflict is going to pop up now and then in your organization. $359 billion in paid hours, the equivalent of 385 million working days, are lost each year to workplace conflict! Knowing how to spot destructive conflict and how to diffuse it before it spirals out of control and takes down a whole meeting or team work day is an important skill. And since we’re all working from home, the ways we communicate have shifted accordingly, and this brings added challenges to the task of conflict resolution.
Techniques to diffuse conflicts in a remote work setting
There are a number of go-to techniques when it comes to conflict resolution, and when it comes to remote work we have to lean on the ones that rely on verbal or written communication, as those are usually the only tools we have on hand from our own home offices. Communication and mutual understanding are your goals with the majority of these tactics; many conflicts calm down or disappear altogether when both parties are able to get on the same page, and talking through our individual perspectives is the best way to get the other person there. Here are those techniques with an example of each:
- Shoe Stepping: Use this approach to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you’re engaged with a conflict, which may help you value their perspective more. Say, “I’m struggling to understand your perspective and I’d like to; can you tell me more about…”
- Going Upstream: This approach will help you understand how the person came to draw the conclusion you might be opposed to. When you know how they formed their opinion or idea, you might become more tolerant of their position. Say, “Help me understand what led you to that conclusion…”
- Play it forward: This technique can be used when you want a person to consider the negative results that can result from their perspective. Getting them to draw their own conclusion is far less threatening than if you bluntly state your opinions about their idea or perspective. “I can see how [restate their idea]. How might that impact [insert your concern]?”
- Go With It: What can you do when you just want the person to entertain your idea, even though they are locked into theirs? Say, “I get it, and your probably right [restate their idea]. Just for a moment, though, play with me here. What if I could somehow [resolve their concern], what would be the value of [insert your idea]?”
- Two Truths: Sometimes the person you’re engaged in a conflict with is only recognizing their side of the issue. Start by acknowledging the truth of what they said, and then add the truth you hold which is different. Very often two counter-balancing ideas can both be true at the same time. Say, “It’s true that…It’s also true that…”
- Boomerang: One of the best ways to avoid a conflict becoming destructive is to have other people come to your side before the conflict gets out of hand. Say, “So that I’m clear, you’re saying [restate their position]. Got it. I wonder if someone else here has a different viewpoint they can share.”
- What Else: Sometimes the person who you’re engaged in a conflict with has a half-baked perspective that, with a little help, could be better. Say, “My understanding of your idea is [restate your understanding of their idea]. So what else do we need to include with this idea? What might be missing?”
Not every technique described above will work in every situation, of course. Next time find yourself amid a conflict, feel out which of the following techniques is most appropriate and give it a shot! And of course, if you see or hear two others in a conflict, you can still use these techniques to try and defuse the situation between them.
Grab the bull by the horns
If you’d like to learn more about how to discuss the importance of conflict, understand the various sources of conflict, discover practical ways to make conflict productive in the workplace, and practice improving your own personal ways of dealing with conflict and dilemmas, you can purchase the workbook Unlocking Horns: Courageous Conflict at Work, available now at Amazon. This is a must-have training tool for leaders, managers, small business owners and executives.