Ask 1,000 people, and at least 999 of them will say they don’t like to deal with conflict. But it’s impossible to completely steer clear of situations and individuals that create discord in your personal relationships or pork operation.
However, just because conflict arises doesn’t mean it must have a negative outcome. Instead, use it as an opportunity for change, recommend Cheryl Stinksi and Karen Dorn, partners in Alternative Resolution, based in Appleton, Wis. These experienced problem-solvers and conflict mediators have helped many clients work through conflicting issues so that all parties involved can move toward a positive outcome.
Here are 10 tips that Stinksi and Dorn have developed over the years to help overcome conflict:
1. Develop a positive attitude about conflict. It’s imperative that you consider your attitude whenever you approach a conflict. Think of the situation as an opportunity for growth, progress, improvement and greater understanding between the parties involved. It’s also an opening to identify ways to improve your operation’s products, systems or services.
2. Talk with people, not about them. Don’t rely on second-hand information – go directly to the source. This removes the filter of other peoples’ opinions and experiences. Those with the conflict are often best able to resolve it.
3. Approach the parties with respect. Remember, those parties involved are people first, then spouses, parents, employees, suppliers or whatever other roles they shoulder in daily life. Everyone has his or her own emotions, values, backgrounds and viewpoints. A common vision and honesty are two important assets you should bring to the mediation table. Sometimes conflict resolution is as simple as clarifying the vision for everyone involved. Be sure to follow the rule of no name-calling or put-downs when working through a problem.
4. Take ownership of your part of the problem. Successful resolution means both parties are actively involved in discussions without accusation. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Keep in mind that a sincere apology often opens the door to constructive discussion.
5. Find a neutral place to meet that is familiar, comfortable and private. Ensure that there are no interruptions or distractions.
Consider the timing of the discussion; choose a time that’s convenient for everyone. Allow for a cooling-off period if necessary. Also provide time to prepare for the meeting.
Set up discussion rules, like only one person may speak at a time, and they must stick to the issue at hand. Most importantly, emphasize that anything discussed at the meeting is confidential unless otherwise noted.
6. Use active listening. Successful conflict resolution is 80 percent listening and 20 percent problem solving. Use paraphrasing, and clarify what you’ve heard before giving your viewpoint or response. Ask neutral, open-ended questions if you need to collect more information.
7. Identify the problem before trying to solve it. Nine times out of 10, a supposed conflict is really about something else.
Underlying issues often take time to uncover and may not even be related to the original issue. However, discovering these underlying issues is the key to a lasting resolution.
8. Focus on interests, not positions. Positions are the preconceptions you bring with you or the stand that you’ve taken on an issue or situation. When you focus on a position that someone has already made about an issue it can lead to a power struggle because nobody wants to be wrong. When you focus on interests, or the factors that influenced the decision, it’s easier to negotiate and work things out because you focus on the process not the outcome.
9. Include all parties in problem solving. Look for solutions that everyone who is impacted can live with. Ask what each party can do to solve the problem. Then, ask what tools each party needs to solve the problem.
10. Put policies and systems in place to deal with future conflict. Once you’ve addressed a specific conflict, it doesn’t mean you will never have to deal with it or another issue again. Develop a plan to deal with conflict when it arises, and be sure to include all stakeholders as you put your scheme together.