How to Positively Manage Conflict
Conflict is part of our daily lives, regardless of our attempts to avoid it. Learning to manage conflict positively is an often overlooked and underrated skill.
Is there a way to ensure a win-win situation when we are essentially dealing with a clash of interests between those involved?
Avoiding conflict? Don’t build a house…
2018 will forever be known as the year I built my own home. Some may call it the year my son was born, but I know which has left deeper emotional scarring…
With limited finances and an all-too-soon baby due date, we secured a fixed price contract with a gentleman acting as our project manager. The term gentleman is used solely for my own merriment here. Gentleman or not-so-gentle-man, conflict was rife throughout the build. From window mis-measurements to ‘accidental’ double VAT charges, we moved from one clanger to the next, culminating in a series of inappropriate emails sitting happily between Mein Kampf and Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom in the ‘Dark Reads’ section of the library.
The relentless conflict was exhausting. Less so manual labour exhausting, more so trench warfare exhausting. But my experiences have contributed to a richer understanding of conflict and the important role it plays in human sociology.
Learning how to manage conflict in your life will allow you to engage with other human beings in a more dynamic and reflexive way.
Conflict – What is it?
Wherever there is a clash of interest, conflict occurs.
Often, we think of conflict between 2 or more parties, maybe in their place of work or within personal relationships. This is known as external conflict. However, conflict can arise within. I used to experience this internal conflict whenever the friendly Green Peace fundraisers asked me what I did for a living (I worked for an advertising agency at the time.) We experience conflict on a daily basis, and ignoring it can be toxic.
Don’t avoid, embrace!
Many will identify with the idea of conflict avoidance. I consider myself a card-carrying conflict avoider, but my attempted avoidance of external conflict leads to inner turmoil, passive-aggressive behaviours and ultimately internal conflict.
You simply cannot avoid it, you can only ignore it.
Instead, see conflict as an opportunity. A chance to build a stronger relationship, to solve a problem, or to form an idea. It can build your confidence, or build another’s self-esteem.
Conflict always offers an opportunity to change something.
It should never be feared unless you stand to lose something truly valuable to you – your life, or your physical, emotional or mental wellbeing.
What are the outcomes?
All conflict results in one of five situations:
I win and you lose
I lose and you win
I lose and you lose
I partially win and you partially win
I win and you win
We have been raised on the philosophy of the free market economy, with a reverence for competition. That is why the lion’s share of conflict ends with one party as winner and one as loser. In Kilmann & Thomas’s (1975) assessment of conflict outcomes, there is also a situation in which both parties risk losing – this happens when conflict avoidance strategies are used.
Clearly, there is a preferred outcome. Either we compromise, and both gain a level of satisfaction, or we collaborate and optimise the conflict outcome.
3 Techniques to Achieve the Win-Win
For all parties to win as a result of conflict requires a notable level of skill. Below are 3 techniques I see used by those skilled in navigating conflict:
A genuine ability to empathise with another human being. Also, the ability to get them to believe that you are empathising with them (these are 2 different things)
The ability to nurture, reassure and calm another human being
Excellent negotiation skills
Each of the above are highly skilful communication techniques in their own right. To be brilliant at conflict resolution one must have the ability to read other people and the agility and sensitivity to apply the appropriate one of the three techniques at the right time. Inappropriate application can create greater conflict.
Work on your Fingerspitzengefühl
The German term Fingerspitzengefühl (go on, say it, it will make you happy), literally means "finger tips feeling" and is used when referring to an individual’s intuitive flair or instinct. It describes a great situational awareness, and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully at any given moment. Many German’s point to Angela Merkel as the personification of Fingerspitzengefühl.
We can all acknowledge the risk of losing from a conflict, and if avoiding said conflict results in greater losses then I suggest we look to embrace our "finger tips feeling" if we hope to become adept at managing conflict in our lives.
Want to learn more?
Join us on June 28th for our Concannon Connection Business Community event, where we will explore further the complexities of conflict with guest speakers and group discussion. These events are free to attend, but places are limited and booked on a first-come-first-served basis.