Are you afraid of conflict? You're not alone. It's human nature to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. And today, as jobs become more precious and tensions rise in the work place, conflict creates an even bigger stress load (at best) and irreparable damage to our jobs and relationships (at worst).
I'm a Communications Coach, and these days I'm seeing clients struggling to break out of emotions that keep them from freely speaking their truth. After I've helped them to identify what emotions they're feeling and when-as well as how emotional overload blocks them from success-we take a look together at ways they can practice using their new skills.
Conflict resolution provides the perfect opportunity. Starting small (by addressing a situation that irks you, for example) is a good way to begin your practice. Let's say you have a co-worker who really gets under your skin. He's a guy who pops his head into your work space several times a day for no particular reason. He disrespects your time and can't seem to take a hint.
What do you do?
First, get a handle on everything you've been feeling around the situation by applying self-honesty. Then move into these basic steps of conflict resolution:
1. OPEN YOUR EYES Although maintaining eye contact isn't easy for everyone, most people prefer it. It shows a level of trust and respect. Looking your co-worker in the eye when he interrupts you this time gives him your full attention (maybe something you've avoided in the past), and demonstrates patience. Be sure to cultivate this patience by paying attention to your body-and regulating your breathing if needed-so that you avoid making eye contact that's intimidating or otherwise threatening.
2. OPEN YOUR EARS Listening is crucial to conversation, especially when emotions come into play. It's too easy to misinterpret what's being said when you're overly emotional. The brain can only handle so much at once.
It may be tempting to begin speaking straight away, in order to get the topic out on the table upfront. However, truly successful conflict resolution requires you to be a receiver first and a mouth piece second. There are many ways you can continue to demonstrate patience and mentally prepare yourself by being fully present in the moment as it arises.
Active listening is a great way to put your co-worker (and yourself!) at ease in this scenario. Examples of active listening include nodding your head, smiling or frowning when appropriate, and responding with phrases like, "I see," or "Mmm-hmmm." An advanced active listening technique, called mirroring, helps you to further sift through the information your colleague is sharing. This is key when you're feeling impatient or otherwise emotional inside and may not be processing info. correctly. In mirroring, you repeat back what the other person has said or sometimes even what she or he seems to be saying "between the lines," as in this sample conversation:
CO-WORKER: (blathers on about his morning)
YOU: (evenly or with empathy) It sounds like you've had a very busy morning.
CO-WORKER: Oh, let me tell you another thing, too-!
YOU: I'm sorry to interrupt your story, but I do have get back to work. Could we finish this conversation another time?
CO-WORKER: (sarcastically) Oh, well, excuse me! What are you working on that's so important, anyway? (half-jokingly) Top secret?
YOU: It sounds like I offended you.
3. OPEN YOUR HEART While staying as unemotional, or calm, as possible is important in conflict resolution, it's doubly as important to generate empathy for the person you're facing. Sometimes it's hard to find even an ounce of compassion for the one you're in conflict with, but there is a shortcut to this. Look for common ground; if you have to, start with the very issue you're arguing over. After all, one thing you can say for certain about this person is that you both feel passionate about what's at stake!
In the case of your annoying co-worker, you can know that you both like being in your work space (albeit for different reasons), and each of you wants more of YOUR particular time. When you open your heart to your co-worker from this point of view, you're more apt to be amused and more easily relate. And when you open your heart to yourself, likewise, you're sure to protect your own boundaries and goals as the conversation progresses.
Making good eye contact, patiently listening to really discern what's being said, and employing empathy to find common ground are the basic tenets of conflict resolution, big and small. Use these three basic steps to walk your way through controversy and find peace for yourself.