Conflict: It’s a word that has been tinged with negativity for many years, but it can be helpful, depending on your approach. In my time as a coach, I’ve had numerous clients ask to spend our time together to talk through a conflict that happened in a personal or professional setting.
A common conclusion that these individuals come to is transitioning their approach to conflict from trying to win to trying to partner. When we enter into conflict having let go of the desire to win, many different opportunities unfold. Developing this mindset isn’t easy. It takes practice and continuous improvement. It can be done, though; here are some critical pieces to work on in your effort to partner with others instead of trying to win.
1. Seek to Understand
In any interaction, seek to understand what the other person is sharing. Seeking to understand instantly softens our agenda, if we have one, and enables us to hear what the person in front of us is saying and why he or she may be saying it. Seeking to understand also helps us to be on the lookout for how the other person would like to partner or what fears he or she may have regarding the topic being discussed.
To truly seek to understand, use active listening. Often, during conversations, people are just waiting for their turn to talk instead of being present and waiting to respond with thoughtful intent. Active listening provides the opportunity to also learn new details or ideas you might be able to use to strengthen your relationship with the other person.
2. Assume Positive Intent
How many times have you let preconceived thoughts hinder communication, whether spoken or written? What stories have you told yourself about a situation or person, only to realize later that the stories weren’t driven by facts?
Imagine how the situations would have played out if you had assumed positive intent on the part of the other person. Then, imagine an organization where each employee comes to work with the mindset that all of his or her team members are there to partner, to help each other succeed and to connect to care for the people they are serving.
There’s no reason this workplace can’t exist — but it takes active effort. Seeking to understand someone else’s perspective and assuming positive intent can be a bridge to collaboratively resolving conflict. One additional piece — accountability — can make that bridge even sturdier.
3. Hold Yourself Accountable
When it comes to conflict, it is vital we own our part. One way to step into accountability is to assess your emotions and determine how to address the situation with facts and data instead of emotions.
Another component of accountability is owning your communication. People often struggle to connect because they communicate differently. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If this person would just change X, then we’d connect better.” The reality is that the other person probably won’t change X, but you can flex your communication to better connect better with him or her. You can use growth and development opportunities and tools like self- and 360-degree assessments, to strengthen your communication with others by understanding your approach.
Walking into any situation with these three elements in place can set the stage to partnering with others instead of trying to “beat” them. Encourage yourself to take action by creating a plan to consistently bring all three to each conflict you encounter, ultimately helping you purposefully connect with others.