In an interview, someone was asking how I handle conflict.
After giving my response, she said, “So you’re not afraid of conflict.”
I don’t like it, but I shouldn’tfear it. I told her that in my experience, conflict seems to come down to 2 main issues: 1) Miscommunication 2) Non-shared agenda
Miscommunication: One thing I’ve learned in my current job is not just understanding personality types, but how to adapt and speak in their language. While it isa critical part of my job, I also find that it celebrates their place as image-bearers of God. Often, I upset people because of my inability to adapt my words to their language. My current workplace teaches that words are containers for meaning. The words I choose sometimes confuse others when I misinterpret their filters.
Many times when someone gets upset or defensive it is rooted in something else. For example, when I am frustrated and raise my voice at my daughter, often it’s because I am frustrated at my ineffective parenting, not because of the behavior she emits. I tell her that now. I admit my shortcomings while being honest about the behavior. I need to own my words, including my posture in how they are communicated. The only way to get the root of a conflict is to ask good questions that dive beneath the surface. It’s a fine line between aggressiveness and assertiveness. Aggression leads to more conflict, assertiveness leads to clarity.
In the past, I didn’t deep dive into those questions, mainly because I was more concerned with being right than finding solutions. This dives into the second issue.
Non-shared agenda: My current job has taught me this point as well. Conflict occurs when there are two different agendas. To resolve it, those agendas need to be shared. Getting on the same page takes practice in understanding personalities, passions, and postures. Discussing those three practices in depth is another post.
Generally, the only way that this can happen is if you are assertive in asking the right questions. This means understanding the root of why the person is upset. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you or the situation. Other times it’s misperception on what you said previously. Ask the right questions, then listen, learn, and adapt.
For example. The first question I ask is, “What are you hoping we can accomplish that will make this a valuable discussion?” Then listen. If there a personal attack statements (“I really don’t think you care about this ministry.”), I ignore the statement and immediately realize there is something more going on.
Next question, “Wow, that’s a strong statement, do you mind sharing what I did or said that made you feel or think that way?” Then listen, learn, and adapt. I know some personalities want to feel in control of things…anything. I let them have it. Some feel sudden change wrecks their world, I adapt to talk in terms that offer stability. I lower my voice and slow my pace. Some feel I’ve violated some sense of order or process on “how things are done.” I walk into their process to get a clear understanding, and then walk through a system that helps make sense for both of us in the conversation.
Once we’ve established the context for the discussion and agree to it. We have a shared agenda. And the one sitting on the other side of table senses that you actually CARE about what they have to say, because you do.
I ALWAYS summarize what I heard. “So what you’re saying is…is that right?” That is shared agenda. It is also being crystal clear on communication.
This has taken a long time for me to learn, but is invaluable in managing conflict. I’ve found in the end that others are more appreciative, because the goal isn’t to be right, it’s to find out the best conclusion for everyone involved. Sometimes that means admitting I’m totally wrong. Sometimes that means I misunderstood a person’s intentions and rushed to judgment.
I’ll admit, I’m not perfect in this. There are some in my life that I have failed to practice this with on a regular basis. I find asking the right kind of questions, listening, learning, and adapting helps solve many woes regarding conflict.
I hope it’s as helpful to you as it is me.