Everyone has conflict, both at work and in our personal lives. How well we resolve conflicts will determine how well we’ll do in our careers (and lives). Let’s take a fictional conflict and apply the following tools in order to come up with a resolution.
Fictional Conflict: Vince is manager of a petting zoo. He has always served his four pot-belly pigs high-grade feed. Recently, he was directed by the owner to cut costs on the feed for the animals due to budget constraints, and the fact that the zoo’s profits went down by 10%. Vince sees that the pigs aren’t as healthy, as they’re sluggish—even for pigs—and their digestive systems aren’t regular. Two of the pigs aren’t interested in being pet anymore and hide in the shed when the children come.
You win. I win. This is going into any discussion without thinking someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. This is making an effort to devise a resolution that will benefit everyone. At work, you are not opponents. You are not on separate teams. To understand this better, think of those conversations you’ve had with those determined to “win.” Their conversations generally involve a scowl and a “no.” They don’t know how to have a conversation, actually. They don’t listen and have their highways mapped out in their heads.
Vince and the owner need to come up with a different resolution that will be beneficial to the profits, the pigs and the zoo as a whole. This could be that they find good homes for two of the pigs and resume the high quality feed for the others. Or perhaps they find another area of the budget that can be shaved.
Turn problems into occasions for creative ideas. Go off the grid with your resolutions, especially if you have differing goals. You want one resolution, and they want another. Coming up with a shared resolution that might not reflect either original resolution is a brilliant and successful way to resolve conflict.
Both the win-win outcomes above are occasions for creativity. Perhaps when they look into other areas for cost savings, they find that they’re spending too much on the fencing and end up saving even more than they ever thought they could.
Build rapport by listening and through empathy. Some people don’t care about having rapport with people. Or maybe they pick and choose who to have rapport with depending on how much that person can help their careers. Building this involves two simple things. First, become an active listener. Whatever they say, paraphrase and repeat it back to them. Ask questions that encourage them to explain more. Conversing with empathy can be learned. It’s the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Rather than cramming your agenda down someone’s throat, consider what they’re saying and how the problem is affecting them.
If both went in to the conversation with the intention of not budging, the owner would simply demand the manager continue with the cheap feed, saying that the pigs “will get used to it.” And the manager might get emotional explaining how unhealthy the feed was for his pigs, demanding to go back to the higher-priced feed. Neither would listen to each other, and the conversation would end badly. However, if the owner truly listened and had empathy, and the manager listened and understood the constraints of funds, a creative solution would arise.
Be properly assertive and focus on the problem not the person. Focusing on the problem—never the person—and having strategies in place to solve the problem is the best way forward in mastering conflict resolution.
So, rather than the owner telling the manager he was too soft and cared about the animals too much, the owner needs to empathize with the plight of the pigs and understand how it affects his business. The manager, on the other hand, shouldn’t think that the owner is a cold-hearted money grubber who’s a pig-hater. Vince must understand that the zoo needs to make profits for any of the animals to have a good life.
Consider cooperation a superpower. Never go into these conversations thinking you’re going to overpower the other person. Go into them wondering how much power the two of you can have together!
Once Vince and owner collaborate on the best way forward, coming up with a solution for the health of the pigs and the profits of the zoo, they have bonded and committed themselves to a better tomorrow. If they continue to be at odds over the feed, they’ll quickly find other things that they are at odds on, disempowering them both.
Check your emotions at the door. You start life as one big ball of emotion and learn to control them as you grow up. Controlling your emotions is one of the key indicators of being a grown up. That is not to say that you’re dead inside. It’s just that you know how to calm yourself in moments of stress or conflict. You don’t cry. You don’t yell. You don’t get red in the face or pound your fist on the desk. To effect change, emotions cannot be reactionary devices.
If Vince breaks down and then shouts passionately, claiming the owner doesn’t care about the health of his pigs, things won’t go well. In fact, the owner will probably lose respect and faith in Vince as a manager. If the owner shouts and yells that Vince loves the pigs more than he wants a job, Vince will probably be looking for another job, and he might take the pigs with him.
Be open and understand your own biases. Take a moment and list your own personal biases about any conflicts you may be having. Sometimes they’re territorial—I wouldn’t do it that way! Other times they are simply deep cultural biases you’ve been unable to hurdle. Maybe you have issues with authority. Face up to those issues. Maybe you have issues with women or men. Maybe you can’t stand the fact that your boss is younger than you. Maybe your older boss seems too old fashioned, and you scorn her old fashioned ideas. Maybe you’ve been burned and have trust issues in general. Maybe you doubt yourself (the imposter syndrome) and think you’ll be discovered as a fraud—when you’re not.
Perhaps Vince loves animals more than people, and this is why he got into this business. Maybe the owner is feeling money pressures due to both his children being in college. Both will need to acknowledge their biases, so they can remain open to creative solutions.
Be the Marco Polo of conflict resolution and map your way toward a better tomorrow. Chart how the conflict developed and identify commonalities. Define the conflict, and ask questions to reach a solid and achievable resolution. Both parties need to commit to allowing each other to lay out their versions of the conflict and possible solutions while broadening their perspectives. Occasionally, this requires a mediator, so that the conversation has “rules,’ and nothing heats up.
Vince must be prepared to discuss how the feed affects the pigs, and the owner must present the need for profits, if the zoo is to be successful at all. As they lay out the events in order, they should come up with a shared goal: to improve the zoo. This goal should illicit many questions: How to raise profits? How to bring in customers? How to best care for the animals inexpensively? And the potential for creative solutions is high if composure is maintained and minds remain open.