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PERFECT PHRASES for CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Encouraging a More Productive and Efficient Work Environment
By Lawrence Polsky, Antoine Gerschel
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2011The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
What Is Conflict Resolution?
There are two types of conflicts, particularly during any kind of change. The first we'll call direct conflict. This is when it is clear there is a difference of opinion, including:
* Your perception of the situation is at odds with another person's.
* Your point of view is at odds with someone else's.
* Your needs are at odds with another party's.
The second type of conflict involves situations where bad feelings develop over time and create a barrier to relationships and productivity. We call this latent conflict. This kind of conflict can result from a number of causes, such as one person not handling the initial situation well right away, a lack of skills on the part of one or more people in addressing the situation, or even the difficult personality of one or more people involved.
Why Do We Avoid Conflict?
At some point, everyone avoids conflicts at work, for reasons both good and bad. Think of a conflict you are currently avoiding. Perhaps the conflict has been lingering for a while, or maybe you think you can continue to do your work without resolving it. Whatever the case, something about this particular conflict is making you avoid getting it resolved. Some possible causes for avoiding resolution are that the conflict is:
* Too risky. You believe there is too much political risk to address it. A poorly handled conflict could result in fallout that will damage a project, a task, or even your career.
* Unpleasant. It is just hard.
* Too personal. You may think that the issue is not work related.
* Difficult to control. You do not have confidence you can control yourself. Or maybe the other party has a history of being explosive and you think you don't have the skills to manage the situation.
And as you may have experienced yourself, the tendency to avoid conflict is particularly high when dealing with latent conflicts. Direct conflicts easily burst into the open and require a solution, whether we like it or not.
These reasons for avoidance are all real and valid, as are many others. This book will help you overcome these and other obstacles and find an approach that will enable you to address conflict productively and professionally.
Can Conflict Be Resolved?
We have yet to run across an organization where all conflict is resolved. Conflict ebbs and flows in relationships in organizations. In fact, if we saw no conflict during change in an organization (and as we all know they are continuously changing!), we would suspect the organization to be dying or already dead! The emotional exchange of ideas and perceptions is a natural part of people working together.
Employees at all levels must continue working even when conflicts and ambiguities exist. Of course, there are some work conflict situations that can be addressed through a short dialogue to clear up misunderstandings. Many others, however, take more work. They require more energy, a willingness to revisit the issue, and a personal commitment to working things out in the long term.
If you are looking at resolution as all parties being completely happy with the outcome, then resolution is not attainable in most situations. Often, one person will be happy and another not. Partnerships may not be even; there may be a clear hierarchy between, for example, boss and subordinate or customer and supplier and the party in power just decides. Even if there is a more balanced partnership, it can take a lot of effort and time to create a "win/win." We don't always have the energy and time to approach it this way. Other times a conflict—particularly latent conflicts—drags on, sometimes even a long time. We hope it dissipates by itself—and sometimes it does, either because the situation has changed (again), key players change, or it may just become less important due to new priorities or a different mood (different emotions) of the main parties.
Rules of Engagement
What does it take to successfully resolve conflict?
1. Conflict Resolution Is Not for the Faint of Heart
As a first step in approaching conflict resolution, look honestly at yourself to see whether you have what it takes to address conflict. Attributes of a good conflict handler include:
* Courage. Conflict always involves potential misinterpretation and hurt feelings. It takes courage to walk calmly and deliberately through the ambiguity and try to resolve it.
* Balancing your interests with the interests of others. Ultimately, you must care about the other person and her or her point of view to resolve conflict. If you focus too much on yourself, you are being inflexible. Too much focus on the other party, on the other hand, means you overlook your own needs. It takes a balanced view.
* Thinking on your feet. Being prepared is important. However, don't expect to have your conflict resolution plan all worked out and be able to stick with it. Humans are unpredictable, even the ones we know the best, so plan on adjusting your plan.
* Letting go of the "resolution." To be effective in conflict, one must adopt the mind-set of living in the state of ambiguity. Many times, you will have to live with an ongoing subtext of disagreement until sometime in the future when the issue may be resolved. Then again, it may never be resolved, or it may be resolved to the satisfaction of the other person but not you. The bottom line is that you must accept that conflict will always exist, while a completely satisfying resolution may not.
2. Know When to Give in and When to Hold Your Ground
A simple way to avoid unnecessary conflict and to only fight for your point of view when necessary is to think about how much interest you have in the outcome of a particular conflict compared to how much interest the other party has. Using these two dimensions, you can easily decide how to approach the conflict:
* Low interest to you, low interest to the other party: Forget it. This is not worth debating.
* Low interest to you, high interest to the other party: Give in. Why turn it into a fight if you don't really care about it?
* High interest to you, low interest to the other party: Advocate. In situations where the outcome affects you more than the other person or people, be strong and advocate your position.
* High interest to you, high interest to the other party: Collaborate. The only way to come up with a productive solution is for both parties to work together. These are also the situations that can become the most contentious because both parties care so much about the results.
3. Balance Cooperation and Advocacy
The central art of handling conflict is balancing being cooperative while at the same time advocating for your point of view.
How direct should you be? If you are too passive, you will focus too much on making the other party happy at your expense or at the expense of the business issue. If you are too aggressive, you wind up focusing more on getting your way than on the other party's feelings and point of view. When you are aggressive, you might also be blaming the other person for the problem. The challenge is to find the middle ground: being assertive. This means to encourage and support the other person's openness while advocating your point of view. It means taking both your and the other person's thoughts, feelings, and wants into account.
Excerpted from PERFECT PHRASES for CONFLICT RESOLUTION by Lawrence Polsky. Copyright © 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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