Challenging Conversations

Its performance review time again and, as a manager or leader, you might be dreading the invariable conflict which arises. What makes this so and how can you deal with it better?

One of the toughest challenges managers and leaders face is dealing with conflict. It might be with another person, or it might be between others. Either way, conflict is not normally something people embrace. In fact, many will go out of their way to avoid it.

This aversion emanates from the belief that conflict is negative. But that’s not the only way to look at it. A more useful way is to see the opportunity to build robust working relationships by dealing with conflict constructively.

For me, some of the strongest relationships I have built have been founded on conflict. I had a colleague who was opposite from me on most of the personality scales and gender. Over time, we recognised that we saw the world very differently and I came to the realisation that I was interpreting her different views as a personal affront. Yet it wasn’t personal at all, just different.

Because difference is the basis for conflict and because there will always be differences between peoples desires and expectations, conflict is a natural process, within organisations and in life. Managers and leaders are naïve to expect that they will not face conflict so are best equipped to deal with it constructively when it arises, as it inevitably will.

Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann have developed a conflict styles inventory which provides insights on how to approach conflict. In their view, its acceptable to avoid conflict if the outcome and relationship are not important. However, when the outcome and relationship are important (and really, this is where we should be spending most of our time at work), then the appropriate approach is collaboration.

So, how do we do this? Here are my favourite tips:

  • Enquire to learn Understand the other persons point of view. As per Stephen Coveys 5th Habit (of Highly Effective People), seek first to understand, then to be understood. When people feel truly heard and understood, they might start to listen to a different perspective.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of others It is natural for this to feel uncomfortable however this is not a reason not to do it!
  • Adopt a collaborative mindset As the famous Persian poet and philosopher Rumi once wrote Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. One of the biggest creators of conflict is the desire to be proved right. I ask you, Does convincing another person that you are right truly meet your needs and objectives?
  • The 24 hour rule don’t rush in constructively dealing with conflict requires preparation. If you can be a bit of a hot head like me, then make sure you sleep on it before you act. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who doesn’t get around to dealing with conflict, give yourself a time limit of 24 hours to act.

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