While many find it awkward and uncomfortable, conflict is crucial to healthy relationships. Conflict produces better solutions, strengthens relationships, and provides the opportunity to see a variety of perspectives. Conflict is actually a very positive part of communication and healthy relationships. Combat, however, can be dangerous.
Conflict occurs when people don’t see eye to eye about an issue, situation, or goal. Combat, on the other hand, is when conflict becomes personal. Here is an example of each:
Conflict: “I disagree with the approach we are taking”
Combat: “What don’t you get, moron? My 3 year old knows this won’t work!”
See the difference? Combat is virtually always unproductive and in most cases highly destructive.
Unfortunately, conflict terrifies a lot of people. Some were raised in a family where overt conflict wasn’t allowed and people were passive aggressive instead. Others were raised in a situation where really negative conflict—screaming and fighting–happened all the time, and they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. Neither is a healthy approach.
So how do you effectively manage conflict so it doesn’t turn in to combat? Here are 7 steps that will help conflict stay healthy and productive:
#1 Being Assertive is Ok
In his article, The Lost Art of Candor in the Workplace, Gregory Ciotti explains that giving direct, candid feedback is the key to successful teams and organizations. He explains that cultivating candor requires a delicate balance. You have to tread the line between “brutally honest” and “necessarily honest.” One is about putting people down while the other is about the free flow of information. Rather than avoiding conflict, getting aggressive or becoming passive aggressive, assertively communicate what you want and need from others. Clearly communicate your expectations and ensure understanding.
#2 Get to the Point
In his Harvard Business Review article, How to Start a Conversation You’re Dreading, Peter Bregman (@) suggests you lead with the punchline. Start the conversation with candid feedback, and then use the rest of the conversation to work toward a mutually beneficial solution. Being vague and avoiding the real topic creates confusion and lack of clarity.
#3 Pay Attention to Behavior Styles
We all have a different style in which we communicate, and we see the world through our own lens and perspective. Knowing the characteristics of the different behavior styles and understanding how to modify your approach will significantly reduce conflict.
#4 Replace “You” Language with “I” Language
Think about how you feel when someone begins a sentence with “You should….” or “You always….” Instantly, we become defensive. But when someone begins a sentence with “I feel….” or “I need….” we are more receptive. Rather than saying, “You always turn things in late”, try “We agreed on a deadline. What can I do to help you meet it?”
#5 Focus on the Issue, Not the Person
As soon as you make the discussion personal, you run the risk of combat. If you keep the conversation about the issue, you will reduce defensiveness.
“What I hear you saying is ____. Is that correct?” This is one of the simplest, most powerful communication tools to keep conflict from turning into combat.
#7 Seek Understanding, Not Agreement
Really make an effort to try to understand the other person’s viewpoint, rather than convince them of yours. Share your desire to see the situation from their perspective. Get curious and ask questions. The goal should not be to avoid conflict but to embrace it, staying focused on productive outcomes.