It took me a little longer than expected to get to the conflict management series finale. There are links to the first three at the bottom of this post. Having strong skills to handle difficult conversations are invaluable professionally and personally because as we know, getting into a disagreement with someone else is a part of life. Work, school, home, friends, family or random people that are just in a bad mood for whatever reason, it happens. No matter how you handle tough conversations, taking an organized approach can help you reach your desired outcome every time.
A strategy is especially beneficial if you have the time to create a plan. It sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it might not be, but neither is never getting what you want when you’re working through something with others, or finding a hideout because you don’t want another argument. As it becomes easier for you, it will take less time to develop your plan, and you can use it for any conflict situation. Eventually, it will pop into your mind almost immediately and instinctively.
There are four parts to an organized conflict management process, analyzing the situation, planning a strategy, preparing your strategy and applying it. Let’s explore these points in more detail so you can start using the skills and strategies in a personal or work/school situation.
Organized conflict management process
1.Analyze the situation
First, as you analyze a situation, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions.
- What specifically concerns me about this situation and how does it affect me?
- What are the critical issues here?
- How do I feel about it and what would make it better for me?
- How do I feel about the other person, do I have any assumptions?
- Why is this important to me?
- What do I want to get out of this conflict, what’s my end goal?
- What do I believe is the other person’s perspective on this issue?
You may ask yourself other questions that come to mind. The point is to clarify the issues and your feelings before confronting the other person.
2.Plan your strategy
The next step is to plan your strategy.
A) Look for areas of potential common ground between yourself and the other person.
Anything you can identify as a neutral place to start from will help your discussion with the other person. These would be areas that you can both agree upon such as:
- Expected outcomes
- A mutually acceptable understanding of the issue
- Similar viewpoints
- Shared experiences or common backgrounds
B) Identify the areas that you and the other person differ before starting your discussion.
Think about the likely sources of conflict. It will help you be alert to the potential roadblocks that you must overcome during the conversation. It’s far better to have a general sense of the areas of contention in advance rather than getting thrown off guard when trying to negotiate an agreement.
C) Finally, in planning your strategy, you must clarify which approaches to managing conflict will work for you in this situation and which ones will not.
- What has worked well for you when dealing with this person before?
- Have you found yourself involved in a conflict around a similar issue before? If so, how did you address it?
- Remember that not all approaches work the same in all situations. To see which ones to use, read Are you winning? What’s your style in a disagreement?.
- Also, decide if you’re committed or flexible on your views and goals, and how much time and energy you are willing to spend tackling the conflict.
3.Prepare your strategy
Next, you want to be specific about what you plan to say during your conversation with the individual. Identify and write down what specific issue(s) you have, what particular changes you want, and your preferred outcome. You will want to think through how you would handle various anticipated responses.
- You then need to practice your strategy. There are a few ways you can prepare.
- Practice in front of a mirror.
- Role play with someone who can be objective and give you honest feedback, such as a friend or family member not involved in the conflict.
- Create an outline to refer to during your conversation.
Pay close attention to the content of your message and how you deliver it. Do you keep the tone of your voice even-tempered, or do you allow your emotions to take over and overshadow your message?
4.Implement your strategy
The most important piece of the conflict management process is putting your plan into action.
- Start by setting a positive tone. For example, “I value our relationship” or “Resolving this difference is important to me.”
- Acknowledge the other person. For example, “I can see you’re just as concerned as I am about this issue” or “I appreciate you discussing this issue with me.”
- Establish common ground. For example, “We seem to agree that the current situation isn’t acceptable to either of us” or “Let’s stick to facts without trying to blame one another.”
- Define and discuss the issues. You want to make sure you are in agreement about the problem(s).
- Empathize with the other person’s perspective. Try putting yourself in their position to see why they feel differently than you.
- Use your best communication skills. For example, listen to the other person, keep eye contact and don’t cut off the other person when they’re speaking.
- Brainstorm alternative solutions. There may be a middle ground that will make you both comfortable.
- Come to some mutually satisfactory agreement. Make sure you’re both satisfied with the outcome before moving on to ensure there is no irreparable damage to your relationship.
- Plan for a follow-up discussion. It will make sure you’re both still on the same page or that the things you both agreed to do, are getting done.
Creating a well thought out plan before entering into a tough conversation can improve your chances of reaching a reasonable solution. It can also help keep your personal and professional relationships intact.
The first three posts in the conflict management series:
- Vanquish difficult people with your verbal powers.
- Are you winning? What’s your style in a disagreement?
- When things are getting too spicy for the pepper in a conversation, take it back to the basics.
This is my approach for planning for a difficult conversation. What are some of yours?