My default mode is impatient and assuming, and I have a superiority complex. Most likely, I probably think I know more than you. It’s true, it’s not productive, and it doesn’t make me happy.
But I also care deeply for others. I have a natural desire to help people find happiness. Somehow, as I’ve evolved into an entrepreneur, I’ve become less attached to getting things done “my way,” and more focused on progress and collective achievement.
The more moments I live, the more I understand that conflict is a way of life. It’s the universe, sorting itself out, in our lives and in the world.
Conflict arises at all levels of business, careers, and occupations. We like to make-believe our current station is the hardest hit. That, if we can achieve a greater degree of success, that conflict will go away. I’m sorry to say, that is an illusion.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You feel conflict with another person as the result of a difference in understanding or desired outcome.
You may not share a clear understanding of what they actually want. Or, you may not share the same goal, intention, or approach.
It can be as common as seeking emotional validation, complex as passed-down organizational orders (that no one really understands), or as strait-forward as a difference in goals.
Others are working for their own self-benefit, as they should. You cannot blame them for that. The progress of others should not be up to you.
So, if progress and conflict are bound together eternally, how can we reduce our stress and increase our understanding more easily? How can we ensure and arrive at a shared outcome faster?
Knowing that conflict is a constant that will always be in our lives, we need a strategy to deal with it.
1. Ask Questions, Listen And Understand
When conflict arises, it’s important to understand the situation, rather than assume.
“We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
I can’t count how often I assume what another person is speaking about. I jump to my own conclusion and try to “educate” them. It’s presumptuous and it really slows down progress.
It’s the employee we assume is slacking off, and taking advantage of the company. It’s the boss we assume is steamrolling us out of malice. It’s the partner we assume is working to gain control of the company (and inevitably force you out without a dime).
Our assumptions that unravel from insecurities and fear frame another person at an offensive, so we can prepare and protect ourselves. This is why we need to consciously question, listen, and work to understand.
If the other person has the very best of intentions, we simply need to understand them.
And if they have the very worst of intentions, it’s even more important to understand them. Either way, this process begins with extracting as much information as possible.
Empathetic listening is disarming. It helps the other person feel you are on their side. That they’re in control, and you’re trying to help them along.
When you really listen, and not just wait to respond, you form a connection and empower the other person with the feeling of being heard and acknowledged. Most of the time, this is 90% of the battle.
Taking the time to listen will save you time in conflict. Empathetic listening will speed up your team’s progress, and leave everyone feeling better at the end of the day.
Pro-Tip: Label Observations For Maximum Alignment
After listening and working to understand the other person, make use of this vital information by labeling it. Summarize what you heard, simply.
This takes the formula of, “It seems…”
- “It seems you’re frustrated with this situation.”
- “It seems that you’re doing you’re best to fix this problem, but the solution is really unclear.”
- “It seems like you’ve found a really great opportunity, and you’re searching for support in achieving it.”
- “It seems like you’re having a really bad day.”
The act of labeling is incredible, yet so simple. This one little phrase summarizes what you heard, and gives the other person a chance to agree or disagree.
It is a tool that you can rely on in times of heated distraction. To confirm you’ve listened, and you understand where they are coming from. To create a common language. Ultimately, to plant the seeds of resolution and progress.
2. Influence With Positivity
Avoid Anger And Malice
I’ve earned my badge as a hothead. A couple of times :)
In the boardroom of a multi-million-dollar supplement company, in front of leadership and my entire team, I called out my boss for stealing my ideas and representing them as his own.
Yes, he was stealing credit for my work. He also created a considerable amount of drama and a terrible work environment for everyone on the team.
It doesn’t matter, though. I was the one acting like the egotistical asshole in front of everyone. I was taking the valuable time out of everyone’s day for an impromptu pity party. Won’t you please feel sorry for me?
After this, and many other career explosions, I started to understand that negativity doesn’t do much for helping to resolve conflict. Being on the receiving end of this as a manager, I see more clearly that anger is not a device for progress. Even worse, it can really hurt other people.
You cannot arrive at a positive outcome with negativity, anger, complaining, or self-pity. As natural as these things may feel to us in the moment, they are not productive towards a positive outcome.
The moment you act out of anger, you lose.
Positive Words, Inside And Out
There is something to be said about positive thinking and positive words. Reflecting a situation in the best way possible, for the best outcome. To not complain. To make a genuine effort to bring optimism to any conflict.
I used to be cynical of over-positivity. I’d rather be realistic with myself and others. It’s logical and predictable. Life is hard, get tough or die. Right?
But, as I watch my mentors and other successful people, I see that true influence comes from creating an unassuming, positive dialog. No matter the size of the conflict or dire circumstance, they manage to find a positive truth and path forward.
In the time since realizing this for myself, I’ve been able to take on greater conflict and bigger rewards. I run my own businesses, play to my own schedule, and take on the challenges that are worth it to me. I live my life how I want to, and I make good money doing it. #americandream
To find resolution in conflict, we need to protect our words, to ourselves and to others. In our thoughts, and in what we speak. Because words have the power to influence the way we feel, how we relate to others, in our lives, and in our business. Positivity is paramount to influence.
When you work to use positivity in resolving conflict, you place yourself on the better side of an outcome. You inspire others to be more open in their own approach. The dialog becomes more about the future, and less about the past.
And because conflict is a constant, by adopting a positive tone in all your resolutions, you become a happier, more productive person. That’s the point of all of this, isn’t it?
3. Resolving Conflict Begins With Ourselves, Not Others
One of the biggest blockers we experience in resolving conflict is the idea that it is “their fault”.
They are acting immature. They are selfish. They are self-centered, asking for too much. They are too aggressive. They don’t understand you. They shouldn’t be the way they are.
The truth is, you chose this situation you are in. All the decisions you’ve made have led you to this. And all the future places you plan to go rely on how you deal with this. Not their future — yours.
So own this conflict. Your resolution is within you, not them. Use this as an opportunity to grow bigger and become better.
If you feel someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying, improve your argument. Don’t blame.
If you feel someone isn’t doing their work, create more concise expectations. Don’t blame.
If you feel criticized, make the effort to understand your own insecurities. Don’t blame.
If you have more bad days than good days at work, quit your job. Don’t blame.
If you feel someone is taking advantage of you, strengthen your boundaries. Don’t blame.
I want you to be a happier, more productive person. I want you to feel more comfortable about the presence of conflict in your life. It is truly inescapable. The only question is how effectively you resolve conflict (not avoid it) so that you may move onto bigger challenges in business and in life.
So, what is the next best thing you can do to resolve your conflicts?