Successful people resolve conflict in a positive manner. No matter how interpersonally competent, or how easy-going you are, you will inevitably find yourself in conflict. People will not always agree with you, and you will not always agree with others.
I know a little bit about conflict resolution. It was the topic of my dissertation at Harvard. Way back in the 1970’s, Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed an instrument to measure a person’s tendencies when in a conflict situation.
They came up with five predominant conflict styles: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating and Avoiding. Their research suggests that all five are appropriate depending on the situation.
As a career success coach however, I have found that the Collaborating style is the best default mode. When you collaborate with others to resolve conflict, you focus on meeting both your needs and the needs of the other person. I like this style because it helps you bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution.
When you collaborate, neither person is likely to feel as if he or she won or lost. Also, collaborating with the person or persons with whom you are in conflict creates the opportunity for you to work together to build a solution that best addresses everyone’s concerns.
Successful people are adept at resolving conflict in a positive manner. Collaboration is the best choice of the five most common handling styles. When you collaborate with others – especially those with whom you are in conflict – you not only are likely to resolve your conflict in a positive manner, you will strengthen your relationship with the other person. It’s a win-win.
When I work collaboratively with someone, I focus on our similarities, not our differences. This creates a bond that not only helps us get through our conflict, but helps us strengthen our relationship, and strong relationships lead to career success.
As I mentioned in the paragraph above, my favorite method for dealing with conflict is counter-intuitive. By definition, conflict is a state of disagreement. When I’m in conflict with someone, however, instead of focusing on where we disagree, I focus on where we agree.
This is a great way to not only resolve conflict positively, it helps strengthen relationships. And, as we all know, conflict often leads to a deterioration of relationships. So to me this approach is a no-brainer. First, you get to resolve conflict positively. Second, you strengthen your relationships. Third, you improve your chances of becoming a life and career success.
I look for any small point of agreement and then try to build on it. I find that it is easier to reach a larger agreement when I build from a point of small agreement, rather than attempting to tear down the other person’s points with which I don’t agree.
Most people don’t do this. They get caught up in proving their point. They hold on to it more strongly when someone else attacks it. If you turn around the discussion and say, “Let’s focus where we agree, and see if we can build something from there,” you are making the situation less personal. Now the two of you are working together to figure out a mutually agreeable solution to your disagreement. You’re not tearing down one another’s arguments just to get your way. Try this. It works.
President Obama demonstrated this in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. As he was winding up his talk, he said…
“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.
And if we do — if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis, if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity, if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit – then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, ‘something worthy to be remembered.’ Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”
Regardless of your political views, the President is right on with this one. When you come together with the people with whom you are in conflict by identifying some small point on which you agree, you are putting yourself in the position to begin building a resolution to the conflict – one that is likely better than either side’s opening position. And, by working together, you’ll be strengthening your relationship. This will facilitate even more effective conflict resolution down the road. Look for common ground. When you find it, build on it. You’ll find that this is a great way to resolve conflict in a manner that enhances, not destroys relationships.
Be assertive, not aggressive in resolving conflict. Here’s a true story. Frontier flight 862, Denver to Phoenix. I get on late because I’m on standby for an earlier flight. I have a middle seat, 14B. When I arrive at row 14, there are women sitting in seats A and C. I say hello, stow my bags, and get into my seat.
The woman in 14A smiles at me, looks at the book I have in my hand, and says, “That looks like an interesting book.” I’m reading Laura Lowell’s book, 42 rules of Marketing. We chat a minute about the book and then lapse into some general conversation.
Her name is Cheryl Munsey, and as it turns out, Cheryl and I know a few people in common. And she’s very personable. We chat the whole time the plane is taxiing and through take-off.
As soon as the plane is in the air, the woman in 14C rings the flight attendant call button. The flight attendant comes on the loudspeaker and says, “We are still in our ascent. Will the person who rang his or her call button turn it off until we reach our cruising altitude? Leave it on only if it’s a real emergency.”
14C leaves the light on. I’m worried that she might be ill. The flight attendant struggles down the aisle. When she arrives at our row, 14C says, “I need a pair of headphones. These people are talking too much and driving me crazy.” As she is saying this, she is removing ear plugs.
I feel bad. I tend to speak softly in crowded, enclosed places like airplanes and was surprised that our conversation was annoying her – especially when she was wearing ear plugs. I say to 14C, “I apologize if we were annoying you. I didn’t realize we were speaking so loudly.” She says, “I was trying to sleep,” and puts on the headphones that she got from the flight attendant.
Not a minute later, she rings the call button again. When the flight attendant comes back, she says, “I need another pair. These earphones aren’t drowning out these people.” I thought this was kind of peculiar, as Cheryl and I were stunned by what happened and really hadn’t said anything since her original comment that we were speaking too loudly.
All of this should just go into one of those irritating, bizarre moments in life files and be forgotten. However, it makes a point about personal responsibility, interpersonal competence and life and career success.
The woman in 14C never told Cheryl and me that we were disturbing her sleep. Instead, she chose to complain to the flight attendant about our conversation. It came across to both Cheryl and me as a pretty hostile gesture. We both wondered why she just didn’t ask us to speak more softly. That’s what an interpersonally competent person would have done. That’s what someone who was taking responsibility for herself and her needs would have done.
It’s called being assertive. Assertive people stand up for their rights, but do it in such a way as not to offend other people. Passive people let others trample on them and don’t stand up for their rights. Aggressive people get what they want, but at the expense of others. In this case, 14C was being aggressive.
There are two common sense career success coach points here: one, take responsibility for yourself. Tell people how you feel. Don’t let others do things that make your life unpleasant. And two, stand up for yourself in an assertive, non-aggressive way. Follow the career advice in Tweet 133 in Success Tweets. “Resolve conflict positively. Treat conflict as an opportunity to strengthen, not destroy, the relationships you’ve worked hard to build.” Conflict can destroy relationships – and it can strengthen them. When you find yourself in conflict with another person, choose to see it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them. The career advice here is simple. Resolve conflict by acting in a positive, proactive and assertive manner.