Dealing with conflict can be one of the most challenging aspects of communication even for the most skilled communicators. It is by far the topic I am most frequently asked about during my programs and presentations. For many people, the mere thought of conflict causes a lot of stress and some will go to any lengths to avoid it. Unfortunately, avoiding conflict can result in more damage than the conflict itself.
Dealing effectively with conflict or potential conflict can be stress-free when you employ the strategies presented in this article. When dealing with conflict or potential conflict face to face communication is recommended. In general, the communication should not be done via email.
Note: The strategies outlined in this article are intended for mild to moderate conflicts. In the event of “bullying” or other types of aggressive, intimidating behaviors additional strategies may be required (i.e. third party intervention, etc.). Prior to utilizing any strategy, one should consider their personal safety first and foremost.
First, be clear about the outcome you want to achieve with the communication. Take time to think through what would be an acceptable result. It is important to have a clear goal so you don’t get sidetracked. Keep this goal or outcome in the forefront as you proceed through the following strategies.
Second, identify any opinions or beliefs you have about the person (or people) you are communicating with that could negatively influence your communication with them. Ask yourself, “What opinion would I be willing to let go of in order to achieve the desired outcome?” Any negative opinions you hold onto will exacerbate any conflict. For example, if you believe the person is stubborn, uncooperative, etc., it will effect how you speak to them including the words you choose and what you say or don’t say. This will likely instigate the very behaviors you are trying to avoid.
Third, speak to the highest good of the person. Said another way, give them the benefit of the doubt. In other words, instead of thinking diminishing thoughts think the best of the person. Reframe from destructive to constructive; stubborn becomes passionate, uncooperative becomes independent. Reframing will help you to approach the person as an asset rather than a hindrance.
Fourth, stick to the facts of the situation as opposed to your conclusions. For example, “ I noticed you were late three times last week” (Facts) Vs. “You seem distracted or disengaged” (Conclusion). Your conclusions could be completely wrong and if you start with them it could lead to the other person being defensive, increasing the likelihood of conflict. The facts are what actually happened or is happening. Facts are not usually the source of the conflict. Whatever happened, happened – it’s the differing explanations about the facts that lead to trouble.
Lastly, be genuinely curious and willing to learn about their perspective and what’s important to them. If you approach a potential conflict from curiosity you will see much different results than if you approach it from already knowing the answer. Just think about the last conversation you had with a “know-it-all.” How was that for you? Likely, it was frustrating and left you upset. Approaching a potential conflict as if you already have all the answers will leave the other person feeling the same way. Instead, assume you don’t know it all, that your solution is one possible way to deal with the situation… not the only way. Get curious about what’s important to them and how they would like it to be.
Using these strategies will significantly enhance your communication effectiveness in any situation and in particular will help you be better equipped to successfully handle conflicts.
December 12th, 2012
There is a lot of information out there on providing great customer service. What no one is talking about is the real secret that will truly make all the difference. Do you really want employees to provide great customer service? Then you need to serve your employees. That’s right – consider that your job as a manager or business owner first and foremost is to serve your employees. The traditional model of managing employees is the exact opposite of this concept. Employees are there to serve the organization and the customer.
What if that’s wrong? What if the traditional way of thinking is what is causing all the disgruntled and disengaged employees that are prevalent in the workplace? Perhaps employees are really supposed to be served by the organization they work for?
Imagine the shift this new way of thinking would cause in your organization. Imagine how that would change the nature of your organization. Served employees would have everything they needed to provide great customer service. They would be empowered to make decision for the good of the customer and the good of the organization.
Rather than employees being treated like parts in a machine, they would be taken care of and nurtured. They would be freed up from the struggle of trying to get their needs met and protecting themselves allowing them to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
This may seem like a “far out” concept but it is not. Southwest Airlines has adopted this philosophy of serving their employees and have had enormous success. Their customer service rating is very high and they have a large loyal customer base. For Southwest serving their employees is not just lip service or a good idea. It is a fundamental organizing principle of their company.
Whatever level of customer service your organization is currently delivering is due to the principles your organization is organized around. Do you even know what that is? Get curious and begin to wonder what it would look like to be organized around serving your employees. What would be different? How would your organization flourish if your employees were served?
May 23rd, 2012
“You don’t have any questions do you?” This is what the contact lens specialist at my eye doctor’s office said to me at the end of my contact lens fitting appointment. What do you think my response was? Her question left me with only one possible response, “Uh, no, I don’t have any questions.”
This woman who waited on me was not trying to be abrupt or rude. She was stating a fact (in the form of a question) because in her assessment I was a seasoned contact lens wearer and she assumed I knew what I was doing. These are all valid assumptions however, her question left the impression on me that I shouldn’t have any questions, i.e., having a question would be wrong.
What’s interesting about this comment is that we do it all the time. We make statements or ask questions that limit communication rather than invite it. We often have no idea the world our communications create. In other words, how do the questions we ask influence the answers we get? Another way the above question could have been phrased that would have had a different outcome is, “What questions do you have?” or “I know you have worn contact lenses before, still I want to make sure, do you have any questions?” You can see this creates a different experience entirely. It is inviting a response from me; making me feel confortable and giving me a chance to see if I do have any questions.
Imagine eating a delicious meal in a fancy restaurant and as the server is clearing the dishes he or she says to you, “You don’t want dessert do you?” That would be offensive and somewhat strange. Who the heck is this person to assume what I want or don’t want?
Now think about your own communications with your staff or significant other or anyone for that matter. How much of what you say is shaped by your underlying assumptions about that person or about how that person thinks? Think about how strange and potentially offensive that might be. Questions and statements like, “You didn’t want to be considered for that position, right?” or “You’re all set on the Smith account, aren’t you?” or “Since you have young children I figured you don’t want to travel too much so I gave the promotion to Joe instead” are examples of how underlying assumptions sabotage a conversation.
It is essential that you become acutely aware of your assumptions and the power your wording has to make or break a communication if you want to enhance your effectiveness in communication.
Feel free to leave a comment with an example of how an underlying assumption sabotaged or thwarted a communication you were involved in.
March 12th, 2012
The first, most important thing to realize is “difficult” is your assessment of the person. It is not data or a fact. Even though your assessment is based on data – the data you see is skewed by your assessment. The way our mind works is, once we make a decision – she’s difficult, he’s lazy, they don’t like me, she’s creative, etc. – we automatically begin looking for additional proof to back up our assessment. If you have every purchased a new car you have experienced this phenomenon first hand because as soon as you buy a new car it seems as if everyone has bought the same make and model. Of course those cars were always there but you did not notice them because you weren’t looking.
In the same way when we assess someone as difficult or define his or her actions that way, we begin noticing this person being difficult more often. What do you expect; they are difficult, right? Or are they? Because our minds sees what it’s looking for we dismiss or don’t see behaviors that counteract our assessments. So if we witness a difficult person being cooperative this new information doesn’t eradicate our “difficult” assessment. Instead, the cooperativeness gets explained inside of difficult, i.e., “He must want something,” or “He likes her so he acts differently with her.” We see this new behavior as an anomaly.
A more powerful approach is to give equal weight to these two diverse assessments, i.e., sometimes he is difficult and sometimes he is cooperative. Then get curious about what circumstances contribute to each behavior occurring. Ask yourself, “What circumstances or conditions allow this person to operate at his or her best?” This information will give you insight into what brings out the best in this person and how to most effectively deal with their difficult behaviors.
A very important point here is to understand there is always more data than you are aware of; things you unknowingly filtered out. The more willing you are to discover something new, the better you will be able to deal with any personality type, difficult or otherwise. When you label a person and stop there, you box yourself and the other person into a cycle of frustration, each of you playing your defined role. Conversely, when you recognize we all have the capacity to be difficult, or great, or cooperative, or lazy or motivated or a star employee and that as a manager you have the power to bring out the best traits in people then you will be free from the constraints your assessments bring to every conversation.
The key to being successful in any conversation with any employee is to begin by questioning the conclusions (assessments) you are operating from. Next, actively look for positive behaviors that contradict your negative assessments, and then notice what are the elements or circumstances that contribute to this person’s positive behavior and find ways to do more of it. The difficult behaviors will diminish right before your eyes!
For more information visit: www.YourCommunicationAuthority.com
January 7th, 2012
Speaking to create is easier to describe by saying what it isn’t. Most of what we talk about on a daily basis is to describe what’s already happened. We spend copious amounts of time thinking about and rehashing outcomes of the past. We spend time expressing our opinions about how to fix what’s already done or to avoid the same problem in the future.
We spend little to no time communicating about what we WANT to create. Just think about the last few conversations you have had. What was the content? Were you talking about how hard things are? How unfair? Were you talking about what you want or the barriers to what you want?
Simply put speaking to create is leveraging the creative power of language. It’s understanding that you have a choice about what you spend time communicating about and choosing to communicate to build what you want instead of to fix what’s broken.
Why is it so important?
All language is creative whether it is positive or negative. Whether you say it out loud or think it to yourself, language is creative.
I don’t mean this in some woo-woo, esoteric kind of way. I literally mean we create in language first before we take actions to bring something into existence. We take actions consistent with what we believe, think about and talk about. Look around you. Everything you see was once only a thought in someone’s mind.
Thought – language – is the first step in the creative process. This is always the case. Nothing exists in reality that was created by a human being that didn’t live once as thought.
So the question is are you creating what you want or what you don’t want in your life? How are you spending your language?
Imagine if rather than starting his speech with “I have a dream…” Martin Luther King Jr. began his speech with “I have a couple of things I’d like to point out that I don’t like …” Your job as a leader is to capture people’s imagination – to focus them on what’s possible. Your job is to get them thinking. Yes, the past can teach us some things, but keep in mind that the knowledge of the past is only worthwhile to the extent that you have your focus on what you want to create. What’s happening before your eyes is done, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Let it go, and start describing the world you want to see. Ask questions of others of how we can build it. People are moved forward by describing to them where you want to go, not where you’ve been, and so make sure you’re speaking to create, describing the world you want.
December 11th, 2011
Here are some indicators you need a communication makeover:
• You don’t have the results you want in your life.
• The majority of your communication focuses on the past, namely what went wrong and how it should be different.
• You play out entire conversations in your head that haven’t happened yet, i.e., I am going to say this and when he says that, then I’ll say this (you get the picture).
Communication is everything and everything is communication and yet, for the most part, people work on everything but communication when it comes to producing results. People work on being more organized or more focused but rarely do people associate their communication ability with their results. When you begin to recognize the link between your ability to communicate and your results you will have greater impact on causing the change you seek.
It is not just your ability to speak, listen, write and read, although these are important. What is far more important is understanding the point of view you bring to each and every communication. This point of view shapes and influences every communication and communicates louder that the words you speak or write. Ralph Wald Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear you.” This is true for all of us. Our deepest beliefs, opinions, assessments, etc. are being communicated all the time.
To impact our results, we need to become aware of our fundamental point of view and question its validity and impact on our lives.
Put Your Focus on the future
For the most part we have learned to communicate about stuff that has already happened – most of it bad. Rehashing and trashing; the “I shoulda, woulda, coulda,” syndrome. This type of communication wastes energy and creates the illusion you are doing something about what happened when in fact you are not. You cannot change the past. It is over and done.
What you can do is to identify your role in what happened without judgment to see what there is to learn. How could you have communicated differently? How could you have shifted your perspective and been more open? Then let the past go and turn your attention to the future. Focus on the creative power of language and turn your attention to what you want to create. Have conversations about what you are creating and engage others in the creative process with you.
One thing that is essential to a communication makeover is to become aware of the voice in your head, what I call your narrator. It (your narrator) is constantly commenting on the world it perceives. What we usually fail to realize is that our narrator is only giving us one possible perspective – not the truth. We rarely, if ever, come to a conversation open to learn. We almost always have prejudged and decided, causing us to fight for our opinions. This is antithetical to effective communication.
You don’t always have control over the things that are happening in life. The one thing you have total control over though is your narrator. You have total control over your thoughts. Getting a grip on your narrator is not about denying the things that are happening in your life. It’s not about looking the other way in life and just thinking positive thoughts. No, it means you being responsible for your part in what’s happening. Your narrator sets the expectations that people either are or aren’t living up to. Your narrator is constantly judging and evaluating how life should look and often beating you and others up for not meeting those standards. Your narrator is commenting on what it sees rather passively not caring about the wealth of information that it hasn’t seen and is weeding out. Your narrator doesn’t care about the whole story. It only cares about its story.
Becoming aware of what your narrator says means appreciating the fact that it’s just how you see things and it’s not necessarily the way things actually are. Understanding your narrator simply means understanding that you are not your narrator. You can think something else than what your narrator is telling you and be open to what someone else is saying. This is critical for effective communication to occur.
To explore the ideas in this article further, email Lisa to schedule a FREE Strategy Session.
January 27th, 2011
Effective communication is way more about listening then speaking, and more precisely it is almost entirely about the listening of the person or people you are speaking to. Despite this most people spend the vast majority of their energy and attention on what they are going to say rather than how it is going to be listened to.
People listen through their assessments, opinions, interpretations, expectations, etc. Despite the fact that these things are based on past experiences and have very little (if anything) to do with what is happening in this current moment, they add meaning to what is being said and significantly influence what is heard by your audience.
Although you cannot control people’s listening, in order for effective communication to occur you must take others’ listening into account. You can influence how they listen to you and get through the morass of assessments, opinions, interpretations and expectations and establish a shared understanding – the goal of effective communication.
The way each of us listens is unique because our pasts are unique and our listening is shaped by our pasts. However, there are some commonalities that when understood will enhance communication greatly.
I once heard someone say that people all listen to the same radio station – WIIFM, the “What’s In It For Me” station. In other words, people listen through their concerns. They are trying to answer the questions, “How does this effect me?” and “What does this mean for me?” If you want people to hear what you are actually saying make sure you use phrases like, “What this means for you is…” Also, make sure you understand what the concerns are of your audience. If you don’t know, ask. Assuming is one of the biggest barriers to effective communication.
Another common way people listen is for agreement, i.e. is what’s being said in alignment with what they know to be true? Mostly, people do not relate to their assessments, opinions, and interpretations as one possible way to view the world. They act as if their assessments are true facts – the only way to view the world – and therefore they are looking to validate what they know to be true and discount what they disagree with. To counteract this way of listening you must speak in terms of your opinion. Ask people to consider what you are saying. Phrases such as “The way I see it…” or “In my experience…” are helpful to disarm others’ knee jerk reactions when their truths are threatened.
Lastly, because people listen for agreement to validate their version of reality, another common way people listen is from a black-white, right-wrong perspective. In other words, if what you are saying is right then I must be wrong or vice versa. This can be one of the most challenging ways of listening to deal with because we all have it to a certain degree and protecting our “rightness” feels critically important especially when in a position of authority. One of the best ways to deal with this is to recognize and accept there is rarely, if ever, one right way to do anything. This will help you to feel less threatened when others are arguing for their “rightness.” Using phrases that acknowledge you know there is more than one right way is essential. An example is, “There are probably many ways to accomplish X and we are choosing to do Y for three months and then we will reevaluate.” This enables people to be less defensive and argumentative. It gives them room to try the selected pathway without having to instantly and fully buy into the chosen path as the right path.
Navigating the listening of others is an art that takes practice to master. Once you become interested in it you will be amazed at what you begin to learn and how it greatly enhances communication.
January 7th, 2011
I think it is fair to say that most people do not like confrontations nor do they look forward to challenging communications. I am not saying you should suddenly start confronting people or challenging people. What I am saying is that when you are faced with having a challenging communication, it is an opportunity to develop your communication ability.
I had a manager once who used to always say, “It is easy to be great when things are great. Who are you going to be when things aren’t great?” I believe this is especially true for communication. It is relatively easy to communicate when things are great. When things are not great, when it is dicey, that’s when real talent is required.
Imagine seeing challenging communications as a training ground for yourself. Think about how you might approach them differently if you knew you were going to make mistakes because that is what you do when you are in training. Imagine the relief of going into the conversation, not with it all figured out but with a commitment to an outcome and discovering the best way to get there.
What I am suggesting is that embracing challenging conversations for the opportunity they provide is a much more empowering place to come from than being intimidated or frightened by them. In my experience, communicating from fear doesn’t usually end up with happy, satisfied participants.
As a manager, you are going to have to engage in challenging, dicey, messy conversations at times. Sometimes you are going to get it all wrong and hate being a manager. Other times you are going to take into account that you are training yourself to master communication and you will find your way through the muck and get to the other side having achieved the outcome you desired. That is going to be the conversation you remember and celebrate because you moved yourself a little closer to mastery.
November 1st, 2010
I guess it depends on who you ask. If you survey a bunch of managers, chances are a large number of them will say they often feel they have to be parent-like and they do not mean this in a good way. They usually mean it in a diminishing way; they think their employees are like children and need constant supervision or they will get into trouble, or goof off, or be irresponsible, etc.
If you survey employees they will likely say their managers act too much like parents again not in a good way. They report their managers are overbearing, controlling, restrictive, often treating them like children.
Now if you ask most managers and employees how they wish it would be that would be a different story. I know because I have asked lots of managers and employees how they want it to be at work. Managers want their employees to act like adults and employees want to be treated like mature, capable adults. Managers want to be able to trust their employees to get their job done and employees want to be trusted. Managers want employees to be accountable and employees want to be given a chance to show their stuff and take ownership for their successes and failures. Managers want a team that works well together and employees want to contribute to and be part of something worthwhile.
All these wants are outcomes of great managing and great parenting. Someone once said, “A farmer doesn’t grow crops. A farmer creates an environment where crops can grow.” This statement is also true for both great parents and great managers. Great managers and great parents create a culture where there is freedom to grow, it is safe to take risks, to learn and enhance your capacities.
Here are some of the key attributes that lead to the kind of culture where extraordinary performance can show up:
• Creating a compelling vision so employees can feel a part of something important and worthwhile.
• Offer opportunities for employees to be challenged so they learn and stretch their capacities.
• Foster collaborative relationships where power is shared and all opinions are valued.
• Cultivate the talents and strengths of your team allowing them to give their best towards something meaningful.
• Recognize and appreciate employees for their contributions to the whole and for their individual accomplishments.
• Share relevant information freely.
• Trust your team and believe in their ability to provide extraordinary performance.
Are there exceptions to these principles? Probably, but if you manage for the exceptions i.e. trying to avoid what you don’t want you will miss the opportunity to get what you want. You will alienate your staff, have gossip, resistance and experience huge frustration.
If, on the other hand, you shift your way of thinking to some version of, “My employees are awesome people with extraordinary potential,” and you operate consistent with that belief, you will be amazed at the results they achieve. And, if by some small chance you come across a “problem child” employee, rather than react like a bad parent, you will be armed with the capacity to transform them into a contributing member of the team. Now that’s a great manager!
For a FREE Special Report on “The 5 Most Common Mistakes Managers and Supervisors Make and How to Avoid Them” which is available at her website: http://www.YourCommunicationAuthority.com.
October 12th, 2010
As much as I dread the end of summer, there is a part of me that welcomes autumn. There is a feeling of invigoration, almost like a new beginning. Perhaps it is rooted in our “back to school” culture. Whatever the reason I find I am revitalized and anxious to start new projects and complete old ones. I am more conscious of the end of the year approaching and where I am in relation to achieving my goals. I abandon the more “laid back” summer schedule and crave more structure; designing new routines that support my effectiveness.
It is a great time to revisit your yearly plan or create one if you don’t have one (it’s never too late to set goals after all). Rather than take a “cookie cutter” approach to reaching your goals, I invite you to set aside some time in your schedule to reflect on and evaluate your past successes to see what you can learn. Determine what were the elements that led to your success. What routines and structures have supported you in the past?
Discovering your own unique pathway to success will allow you to avoid the common roadblocks most people stumble upon on the road to success. If you need help with this contact me to schedule a free strategy session.
By the way, it is also a great time to get your copy of 31 Days to Transform Your Life. In just 31 days you can significantly increase your joy, satisfaction and fulfillment using the simple but profound techniques outlined in the book. I know it may sound too good to be true, but I promise you that if you read the book and engage in the Transformational Actions, you will see results. To get your copy, visit: http://www.transformationalconversations.com/.
September 3rd, 2010