I had a meeting between a business and their client the other day. The client felt slighted and unsupported by the company while the company felt disrespected and abused by the client. The client and the company would take turns complaining about the other party’s behavior, and the accused party would deny any such behavior.
It is a conflict with which many of us are familiar. A family member hurts our feelings, and we spend hours, even days, arguing about who hurt who worse. What I have come to believe after working with families, individuals, and companies in these situations is that the current conflict has only a small role to play with regards to the greater issue. The key is to identify what that role is, and why it is important at this moment. Here are some techniques I utilize when working with conflict.
First and foremost, avoid attributing blame. Just don’t do it. This is the number one time waster and relationship killer when in conflict-management mode. Two outcomes are possible from attributing blame. Either the blamed person stands by their action and resents the accusation, or they deny that it ever happened or the validity of your feelings about it. Either way, no one comes out feeling better about the situation. Instead, set the past aside. You need to focus on the present and the future in order to have progress, and blame has no place in either.
Next, it is important to be direct and say what is actually wanted. When you want to order at a fast-food restaurant do you go to the counter and say, “I don’t want pickles and I don’t want cheese,” and get frustrated when they don’t give you exactly what you want. Of course you don’t. You tell the employee exactly what you want. “I want a burger with lettuce and onion, hold the pickles and cheese.” In the same way, when you are asking others to change how they interact with you, avoid saying what doesn’t work and instead focus on listing what does work. This isn’t to say listing actions to avoid is a waste of time; on the contrary. This is invaluable information for the listener. However, if we do not focus on giving others examples of what makes us feel loved and appreciated, then we are just giving them examples of what not to do, only aiding in narrowing the possible ways to behave. Give them a hand and just tell them outright what works.
The next task is to give each other time to understand what is actually being communicated. While we may be speaking the same language, communication styles can make it seem like we are from different worlds. This is because every individual has a unique worldview; their collection of beliefs, goals, and values. Often the environment in which we grow, styles of communication are taught inadvertently. What is offensive or damaging in one environment may be the status-quo method of communicating needs in a healthy and direct way. Because of this, it is vital that time is taken to fully understand what each party is trying to communicate. Often the conflict develops out of differing communication styles.
Finally, maintain a heart of empathy and respect. Each one of us has a vibrant and dynamic life we live. We have all learned ways to survive and thrive in this often too confusing world. Remember to respect every opinion as valid and vital in the progress of a healthy family or business.
There are difficult clients and difficult agencies in business. In our personal lives, there are difficult neighbors, friends, and even family. No matter the conflict, no matter those involved, there is blame to be shared. So set the blame aside and focus on constructive ways to move forward and avoid creating similar hardships in the future.
If you would like to learn more about these techniques and the conflict-management process, I have listed two helpful books below for your reference. They have been invaluable and are utilized in numerous academic settings. In future posts I will discuss these books in depth.
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
People Styles at Work… And Beyond by Robert Bolton