6 Steps to Help Manage Conflict & Get Your Relationships Back on Track
I hate conflict. I get nervous. I repeatedly have the tough conversation in my head, trying to figure out the best way to say it. I’m scared that I am going to make things worse, and that I’m going to drive a wedge between me and the other person. I try to convince myself that it isn’t that big of a deal. No matter how many times I tell myself, “Come on, Doug, get over it,” I feel my pulse quicken and can start to hear my blood pumping through my body. My stomach aches and won’t digest my food right. I yo-yo between overeating and not being hungry at all. The conflict gnaws away at me, consumes my mental energy and won’t leave me alone.
This is how I used to feel about conflict. I used to avoid it, and all the pain and suffering that came with it.
My ability to face conflict has been a journey. Slowly, I’ve learned new ways of navigating it. I’ve experimented and tried out new things. I’ve stretched beyond my comfort zone and pushed myself to take risks. What I’ve found is most of my fears and imagined catastrophes that kept me from engaging in conflict are irrational and never happen. I’ve been surprised to find that when I have the courage to enter conflict, my relationship with the other person is strengthened and we grow together as we work through the challenge.
The Prevalence of Conflict and What You Can Do
Approximately 85 percent of employees report having to deal with conflict and of those 29 percent are reporting always or frequently. Employees in the U.S. report having to deal with conflict 2.8 hours a week. That is more than 3.5, 40-hour work weeks added to your life!
This is reflected in our coaching in DaVita University. The most requested educational topic is conflict resolution. It’s hands down the single biggest struggle teammates have. So, let’s talk about what you can do.
I love the Tough Conversation Model we use at DaVita. The model has been developed over the years, drawing from many different sources and adapting it to our language and culture. I use it in many situations and even refer to it when I am not in conflict. It has become a trusted map for me. And although I may get detoured or lost from time to time in these conversations, the map is always available to me and helps me get back on track.
6 Steps to Manage Conflict
- State Your Intention
Why do I even want to have this conversation? What is my intention? This step has helped me see how much of the conflict I have with others is because I am trying to understand why they just did what they did. And usually the conflict is created because I have made up a negative reason. Most of the time when I ask about it, my assumptions are not accurate. This is also what happens to the other people you are trying to talk to. They are making up stories about why you are doing what you are doing, and whatever it is probably isn’t positive. Telling them right up front why you want to have this tough conversation can help keep this misunderstanding from happening. For example: “I want to have this conversation so that we work together better on the floor. My intention for talking to us is to figure out a way to improve our friendship.”
- State the Facts
As I coach teammates, this is the step that is most often skipped. If you skip this step, you may end up adding fuel to the conflict. It’s important in this step to get very clear on the observable facts or statements of observable behavior. There are times when my son won’t respond to my questions. This can drive me crazy. I want to raise my voice at him and say, “You’re ignoring me.” But that is not an observable behavior. It is a judgment of his behavior. The observable behavior is something like, “You are not looking at me or responding verbally when I ask you questions.” This is very important step. In a strange way, the better you do this step, the more permission you have to take the next step in the process.
- State the Judgments or Impact
Now is when you can lay it all out there. Tell the other person how you feel and the impact their behavior has on you. It’s important that you use “I” statements. For example, “I feel ____.” Or “I think you ____.” Here is a simple equation to help you combine observable facts from the second step and add the judgment or impact to it. “When you do ____. I feel ____.” “When you don’t look at me or respond verbally when I am asking you questions, then I feel ignored.” Other I statement options include, “The impact on the team is ____,” or “I think you ____.”
- State Your Ownership
It takes two to tango. You are involved in this conflict and are responsible for some portion of it. There is a way in which you have created, promoted or allowed this situation to happen. You have some ownership. And the more willing you are to acknowledge that, the more the other person will feel invited to take ownership for their part. They won’t always, but they will be more likely to take ownership. Here are some ways you can take ownership. “Son, I know there have been times that I have been so focused on my phone that I have not responded to you when you asked me questions. I have done what is upsetting me.” Or maybe you’ve done it in other places in your life. For example, “When I was starting out in my career, I over committed and also started missing deadlines.” And there are also times where you must own up to the fact that this has been bugging you for a while and you haven’t said anything: “This has been bugging me for a while and I apologize for not bringing it up sooner.”
- Make a Request
A coach told me once that every complaint I had about someone was a request I probably had never told them. It bugged me when I first started dating my wife that she would run just a bit late. I noticed that my strategy of sitting in the car waiting for her didn’t really make a difference. Isn’t weird sometimes the things we will do when we are upset, thinking that they will fix the issue? I finally make a request that she be ready on time. I also used some of the other steps in this model like sharing the impact it had on me when she was late and, consequently, causing us to be late. It really helped. Think about the direct request you can make.
- Close in a Good Way
Thank them for their willingness to have this conversation. And state that you’re confident it will help. Ask permission to check in with them in a while to make sure you and they are feeling good about it. If needed, it might be worth confirming the consequence if the behavior doesn’t change. “Son, if you’re not able to look at me and respond, then I will have to take your media away from you so you can listen to me.”
Some Additional Things to Keep in Mind
- If it is a big conflict and you are not sure you or the other person can stay calm, you may ask them to listen to all you have to say before responding. Tell them you want to hear their response after you have said all you want to say. Ask them if they can agree to listen.
- Rely on your intention. If the conversation gets off track, restate the intention again.
- Start small. This is a muscle to build. Try it out and experiment with smaller issues before taking on the big ones.
- Role play the conversation with someone not at all involved who can stay neutral and uninvolved.
What step do you think will be the most difficult for you? Leave a comment below.