Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone say, “I don’t do conflict.” It’s the type of statement that can be mindboggling because, really, we all do conflict. Everything from two drivers each thinking it’s their turn at a 4-way stop to ending a complicated, long-term relationship falls under the umbrella of conflict. Whether small and fleeting or the only thing you can think about for months, we are all in some way or another doing conflict every day. It’s just that some of us seem to manage it, address it, and resolve it better than others. So what’s the difference between us and them? Well, for starters there are some habits (or skills, if you will) that those who are considered conflict competent employ with ease.
First, they don’t take anything personal. They don’t attack people and when they are attacked they don’t respond with similar, hurtful retorts. Instead, they get the conversation back to the problem; because they know that is what will resolve the issue. Instead of reporting that Dave is an imbecile and can’t get the work done, they look at infrastructure, the scope of the work, the process, and Dave’s approach to the work.
They are willing to take responsibility: If you’re in a conflict, you have some ownership in it. Period. Maybe you let things go too far or go on too long. Maybe you’ve made the biggest blunder of your career and are so embarrassed that all you can think about is finding the nearest rock to crawl under until the storm passes. Sure, a conflict competent person feels those feelings but what she does instead of running away is stand up and admit her wrong-doing (along with multiple ideas for solutions).
They leave the blame game to others: A conflict competent person doesn’t automatically shift to blaming when a problem arises. Instead, they look at all factors; people, places, and things before giving opinions. They quickly move to exploring how this happened as opposed to who made it happen.
They know how to say no. There’s nothing more irritating than getting a “yes” that over time reveals itself to be a “no.” So, conflict competent people have learned to say no when they mean no. They can even make you feel good about denying your request! Phrases like, “I’m going to have to pass on that,” and, “I won’t be able to do that, but here’s what I can do” are secret weapons for the conflict competent.
They think before they speak: Whether they take a breath, take a second, or simply listen a little longer, a skilled conflict resolver knows not to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, they silently work through a decision tree, edit possible responses, and consider the potential impact of their words before they say anything.
They understand different perspectives: Of course we all know that we’re supposed to put ourselves in others’ shoes but to get to a lasting solution these conflict superheroes begin with the other perspectives and work their way back to their own point of view. They are comfortable with the idea that understanding someone else’s position doesn’t mean they agree with that person; and that identifying what’s important to all involved is a great place to start.
They make the first move to resolve: A standoff at the OK Corral makes for a good Western movie but it doesn’t work so well in real life. A person who knows how to resolve conflict recognizes that waiting for the other guy to do something about it may have you dealing with unresolved issues for quite some time. They are smart about when and where they make that first move and then they move forward.
They know how to apologize. It’s rare for conflicts to settle if there’s no mea culpa offered and conflict resolvers know that getting the sorry train started is the best way to get folks moving. They use a three-part approach to their apologies that starts with a description of what they’re sorry for, an assurance that it won’t happen again, and a request for an opportunity to make it up to the other person.