March 10, 2011

Take Charge of Conflict

checkThe drama that often accompanies conflict is what gives conflict its bad name. Most of us veer away from screaming matches, stand offs and personal attacks.

But, conflict does have redeeming value … especially for those of us over 50.  According to Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, we need to present our brains with things that make it wake up, pay attention, and work really hard. To give your brain a workout, Strauch suggests talking with people who disagree with you because it helps you sharpen your own thinking and challenges you. So having conflict in your life can actually make you smarter.

To benefit from benefits of conflict, and lose the drama, here is what I have learned about taking charge of conflict.

First and foremost, trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, it probably is. D. H. Lawrence, the author, wrote, “My beliefs I test on my body, on my intuitional consciousness, and when I get a response there, then I accept.” Have you ever walked in to a meeting and known instantly that something was amiss because someone failed to look you in the eye? When that happens, it is a sure sign that the drama of conflict is about to ensue.

Second, remove yourself emotionally and do not take the situation personally. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” How you choose to respond is far more meaningful than what happens to you. Look at the conflict holistically and positively not negatively. Conflict usually has to do with misinformation, a difference of values, or a difference of opinions. Some times, there may be a previous unresolved conflict between the parties. No matter what your situation, do you have a tough time keeping your cool? My advice is to take a deep breath, count to ten, and keep your cool.

Third, when you’re in conflict with someone, stop and listen. Really deeply listen. Most people involved in a conflict have already decided on their own solution and fail to use conflict as an opportunity to learn all sides of an issue. Listen for grains of truth in what the other person has to say. Ask yourself: What is their point of view? Why is it important to them? What values and goals do we share?

Fourth, know the person with whom you have conflict. There is an old adage that says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Study the person with whom you are having conflict. What is their communication style? Are they passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive or assertive? Do they want to save face? And, what is the best way for you to respond?

Fifth, be an eagle and soar above. Look at the situation from atop the peak. One technique you can try is to imagine yourself looking down on the room as if it were a Greek play about to unfold. Being dispassionate can help you orchestrate what you want to do next.

Sixth, decide what you want. This is important because every step you take needs to get you to your ultimate goal. Ask yourself, what is my number one goal? When I got married (more than 25 years ago), my mother gave me some advice. She said, “You can be right all the time or you can be married.” You may very well be right but getting others to admit you’re right may not get you where you want to be in the long run.

Seventh, think ahead. Conflict is the chess game of life. Strategize your every move. Determine what the person with whom you have conflict might do. Avoid surprise attacks. A famous chess player, when asked his strategy for success, said, “I always think through at least one more move than my opponent.”

Eighth, have alternative plans. Determine several responses you could make to the conflict. List the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Think about the long-term implications of each alternative. Answer the question: What solutions can I live with? What can’t I abide?

Ninth, move slowly but deliberately. Don’t make assumptions. Check out the facts. Make decisions based on data, not on emotions. Don’t let anger control your actions.

Tenth, take time to reflect. Ask yourself, what have I learned from this conflict situation? What did the world gain?  What did I do brilliantly? Am I proud of the way that I behaved? And, what might I still need to learn?

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Judy Lindenberger "gets" leadership. She is the rare coach and trainer capable of coupling personal growth with professional development, which is why top companies and individuals invite her to work with them. Judy focuses on driving performance. From developing more impactful communications to helping successful leaders become even better; from navigating your career to managing conflict; your team will leave her programs with renewed energy and focus. Judy's background includes designing and facilitating the first-ever sexual harassment prevention training for federal workers, leading the management training department for a major financial organization, and creating a highly successful, global mentoring program for a Fortune 500 company which won the national Athena Award for Mentoring for two consecutive years. She is also a certified career coach and human resources consultant. A must hear speaker at industry conferences and a published author, Judy earned a B. A. in communications and an MBA in human resources. In her free time, Judy serves as Member, Board of Trustees, YWCA Trenton and Vice President, Hopewell Valley Regional School District. She is the Past President of the Board of SERV Achievement Centers, and is a trained community mediator and child advocate. SpecialtiesCustomized training (instructor-led and e-learning), career coaching, HR audits, organizational assessments, and human resources consulting. Contact: [email protected] or 609.730.1049.