Are you conflict averse? Everyone is.

Are you conflict averse? Everyone is.

Not a workshop goes by without a participant telling us that they hate conflict. Here’s the thing – none of us like it. Well, very few of us anyway. Confrontation makes us uncomfortable. When we dig a bit deeper the real issue is that people don’t feel confident having difficult conversations. The good news is that there is a way to deal with these situations so that it is easier for everyone.

In our Confident Conversations workshops we guide people so that they can reflect on how they have been approaching confronting conversations. A senior leader told us recently that she realised that when she is in a high stakes situation where emotions are escalated and there are differences of opinion, she had fallen into a habit of not really listening. Instead of asking questions and delving into what is really going on, her default strategy had been to go straight to ‘telling’ rather than trying to find out where the other person was coming from.

Often as managers we feel responsible for fixing everything. We think we need to have all the answers. This is how we get caught in the trap of giving advice too early. What we really need to do is make friends with silence. This means asking questions about how it is from the other person’s perspective. Allowing the other person time to think opens the possibility of them coming up with some of their own solutions.

It takes courage to do this, but it is a great way of showing you respect the other person’s world view. It is also empowering because listening allows a team member’s thinking to evolve. It can help to break rigid points of view because they feel heard and safe. Rather than prescribing solutions, listening provides space for a more collaborative approach for moving forward.

Dealing with heightened emotion is always uncomfortable, but next time you find yourself in this situation try some simple strategies including:

  1. Ask the other person to share their perspective instead of going straight into offering solutions
  2. Avoid the urge to fill the silence once you’ve asked a question
  3. Show genuine interest in what the other person has to say
  4. Ask the other person what they think is the best way forward (you may know the answer to this but it’s much more empowering if the idea comes from the other person)

When conflict rears its head at work, your goal should be to resolve the conflict whilst maintaining a healthy and productive working relationship. If you take a step back rather than jumping in with an immediate solution you can prevent the erosion of the other person’s sense of ownership. None of us really like conflict but there is a better way to do it. We teach people how to have confident conversations. In time you will find approaching things differently can create positive cultural change in your workplace.