Every CEO Needs a Coach - Interview with Eric Schmidt
Turning Conflict into a Strength
Conflict is an unavoidable, normal and natural aspect of any relationship. Conflict at work, when dealt with constructively, strengthens relationships and enables the development of new business opportunities. Alternatively, conflict can be a negative force that destroys relationships and organizations while killing creativity. With the stakes being so high, learning how to manage conflict is a powerful skill that will provide you great return from the investment of your time and effort.
The ten steps below will help you turn areas of conflict with colleagues into agreement and the basis of stronger relationships.
1. Stop and Review Your Behavior
If you find yourself in a situation that is escalating …STOP. If you or others have become emotionally charged, take a break to give yourselves time to become more objective. Consider how your behavior is impacting others and/or fueling the conflict. (E.g. If you habitually "blow up" during conflict, people will build walls around you which will impact your ability to succeed both personally and professionally.) Building awareness of how you respond to conflict is the first step to strengthening your skills and changing old habits that may be getting in your way.
2. Gain Perspective
What is the conflict/issue really about? People in conflict automatically assume that they know what the conflict is about. But generally our perspectives get so clouded with assumptions and misinterpretations of other's behavior that we lose our objectivity. To gain clearer perspectives, ask yourself these questions: Is this issue an isolated event or the latest in a series of issues that reveal a larger difference? Is the disagreement over methods or goals? Is this a conflict over deeply held values or preferences? What are the key factors that are preventing me from understanding other's point of view? Are there outside influences that are driving the conflict? What are the component parts of the issue? What needs to be addressed first? What do I feel most strongly about? What am I willing to compromise on?
3. Deal with Conflict Do Not Avoid It
Pretending that there is not a problem or choosing not to deal with a problem is very common and understandable. However conflict does not go away by itself, it may disappear below the surface, but unresolved conflict will fester, damaging relationships, and impacting your business.
4. Find a Neutral Space
Find a neutral setting away from the public eye, where you will not be watched or interrupted, to meet with the person, or people, directly involved in the conflict. Keep the number of players to a minimum so you can focus on the key issues. If necessary, bring others in after some initial areas of agreement have been reached.
5. Have a Good Opening
Open the conversation by communicating your commitment to resolving the issue and desire to take a fresh approach. State your opening in such a way that it sets the tone for cooperation and partnership.
6. Maintain Self-Awareness and Control
Throughout the process observe your own reactions as well as those of others. Look out for old habits that have escalated conflict in the past and choose to act differently. Don't allow others to blow wind into your sails. Remember you have control of your reactions. You cannot stop the wind but you can let it spill off your sails! Maintaining your calm, even when you feel like your 'buttons' are being pushed, is a powerful skill that will help you achieve your goals in all aspects of your life.
7. Clarify and Acknowledge
Clarify each other's perceptions of the issue(s). Discuss the issues you considered in step #2. This is not about trying to find out who is at fault or who is right. Instead, listen for new information and fresh perspectives. Try to imagine how it feels to stand in the other person's shoes. Identify those areas where all parties share the same goal or point of view. Resolution often comes from building on areas of commonality. Also, focusing on areas where there is agreement both strengthens the desire to solve issues and puts the disagreement in context.
8. Communicate Respectfully
Respect is at the heart of building business relationships. Communicating respectfully starts with accepting that people will have different perspectives and that your role is to try to understand their viewpoint. Make sure that you really listen and that your approach is based on curiosity and compromise, not blame and determination.
Work together to brainstorm several specific options that could resolve this issue. Be creative. Look for options that will be a win/win solution for all. Once you have reached agreement on how you will resolve the issue, take time to clarify the specific actions and individual responsibilities. Agree on a time to check in with each other and discuss progress.
There will be times when despite your best intentions and skills, conflict will escalate or an acceptable solution will not be found. One way to move forward is to agree on a temporary resolution by identifying small steps that both sides could start with, to move towards resolving the bigger problem. The action of taking small steps builds trust and in time may lead to resolution of the bigger problem. However sometimes other challenging issues get in the way of successful problem resolution. In these cases bring in the help of a professional mediator or unbiased third party who can meet with all the parties separately and then facilitate a healthy conflict resolution process.