Workplace conflicts steal your energy and motivation at the office. Not to mention the additional stress you take home, the restless nights, lost sleep and negative impacts on your overall health and well-being. Business excellence requires recognising conflict risks early and being prepared to embrace, not fear or avoid, difficult situations.
We can all be unaware of how we maintain tensions and contribute to escalating disagreements. While you are vividly aware of a colleague or employee’s negative behaviours and know exactly what they should be doing to remedy the situation, you yourself may unconsciously respond in ways that keep workplace tensions simmering. And even act in ways that push the temperature to boiling point!
How do you increase your chances of success to lower the temperature and lead the resolution of office conflicts?
1. Recognise the First 3 Minutes are Everything!
Begin with the end in mind. Research shows that the first 3 minutes of a conflict conversation will determine the outcome. Conversations that start with abruptness, blame, dismissiveness, or criticism will derail your efforts to resolve matters. We are often unaware that as we make comments about the other’s behaviours, we risk inferring intention and can seem condescending. Giving advice, or direction too early risks sounding condescending. These all reduce opportunities for cooperation.
Raise complaints early, gently and directly. Bring a spirit of engagement and create an opportunity for joint exploration of the issues. You never know what you’ll learn if you stay curious. Demonstrate an attitude that this working relationship is important to you.
2. Gain Influence from the Start
Be strategic and compassionate at the same time. You increase your influence by clearly demonstrating that you are interested in the other person’s perspective. Be committed to learning the key concerns of the other person’s position, before you talk about your views. Hold back your opinions, keep a leash on racing thoughts and your reactions to the things being said and LISTEN.
Acknowledge that you understand the other person’s viewpoint by summarising their perspectives. This is a vital skill in conflict situations. You don’t have to agree with them, but do let them know you understand their position. You will have much more sway in the outcome, because you have increased prospects for trust. It is essential to create enough goodwill to move from a gridlocked problem towards positive change. When you share your concerns, keep to your own issues and don’t immediately start to respond to the other person’s comments. That comes later in the conversation.
3. Defeat Defensiveness
Our brains set us up to mirror other’s emotions and behaviours. Without realising it, we tend to mirror bad behaviour and bad moods more easily than positive ones. We become defensive when we feel judged, unheard, and definitely, if there is blame in the conversation. You might feel under attack and the usual response is to worry, then over-explain, justify actions, or be dismissive.
Unfortunately, they won’t see your discomfort, or fears. Defensiveness always looks angry, or your responses seem aggressive to the other person. So they are likely to become defensive as well. The conversation is derailed by fresh complaints and alternative criticisms, or the other person starts to withdraw. You both end up feeling increasingly frustrated, with things going around in circles. To reduce the risk of blame entering the conversation, consciously look for the positive qualities that you know about yourself, in the other person. And conversely, try to see those negative qualities so obvious in the other person, as possibly being a part of your own habits.
4. Make Positive Shared Proposals
All too often we raise our concerns with a list of things we don’t want the other person to do, say, or think anymore. But conflict is never one-sided. Just like saying “Don’t think of an elephant” will keep you thinking of pachyderms, saying what you don’t want will keep you stuck in negativity.
You need to think creatively, explore options, be prepared to negotiate and see both sides of the story. It’s crucial to ask for the changes you want and state this in positive terms. Be clear about what you want from the other person, from this point onwards. Make this specific and manageable. Then do the same for your contribution to the problem. Identify the positive actions you can undertake to help resolve matters. Consider at least 3 possible outcomes, more if possible. State these as positive proposals. Proposal A is what you would ideally like to offer and what ideally you would like to ask for. Proposal B is what you could compromise on with reasonable consideration, and what you could settle for from the other person. Proposal C is your bottom line: what you can’t agree to offer, or consider to accept from the other person.
5. Put your Heart into It
Your heart rate equals your thought rate. As tensions increase, your heartbeat increases. When your heartbeat hits 100 beats per minute, your stress rate hits the ceiling and objectivity goes out the window! Your breath rate is the key to staying calm and curious, rather than overwhelmed and reactive. Maintain awareness and consciously slow your breath down as you enter into difficult discussions. Make sure you are breathing, as you can often unconsciously hold your breath when situations are tense.
Have your body language open and relaxed. Crossed arms, keeping distance and avoiding eye contact will look defensive, you will feel more stress and your heartbeat will increase. Take time to respond and stay with an enquiring mind. Your thinking will remain clear if your heart rate is slow and steady. This is Mindfulness in action. Moreover, the brain’s mirroring tendencies mean that as you remain calm you increase the possibility for the other person as well.
Article by Elizabeth Williamson, originally published in Business Women Media