By focusing on the behavior, and not the person, you can help to keep discussions moving forward by offering strategies for conflict management throughout the process. By doing this, and being clear about your expectations for the discussion, you begin to focus on what people do and not who they are because making it about the person creates defensiveness and will lead to them feeling alienated thus causing more conflict. By focusing on the positive behaviors you want to see in the meeting room, you reinforce the value in creating strategic solutions together.
Most people are not difficult around the clock, but behave in situation-specific ways. They do things depending on the context or environment, as well as on how they are feeling about the interaction. For example, a person may be more polite and courteous and willing to resolve the issues in a difficult conversation with their loved one, and irritable and impatient with a fellow employee. The situations, context and experiences are different and each interaction builds on the next. In the event of a negative experience, research tells us that we will engage in the next interaction with the thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the person or interaction, the next time we have to have a difficult conversation with the same person. It is helpful to commit to managing the issues by addressing and dealing with the difficult behavior while developing an understanding with the person.
We all behave differently based on our workplace climate. Each workplace and division and even family, have their own beliefs about acceptable behavior for managing difficult conversations. These may be subtle to completely overt. For example, I had recently worked on a project where the workplace environment believed in a climate of silence. Every time an issue was tabled, everyone became silent and shut in their own office space. The interaction in the office environment was silent with only task focused issues being discussed through email or voicemail. Once the issues were tabled and discussed, with a partial resolution, the workplace began buzzing with interaction again. Focusing on the behaviour and not the judgement of whether this behaviour is acceptable or not, for that particular workplace, this is how they coped with, and believed they managed, difficult conversations.
It is important when you are leading a process to be flexible in terms of what you expect and what you accept from the parties. None of us behave and react to situations and events in the same way. We all have our own beliefs and attitudes about every situation, as well as our own beliefs and attitudes about conflict and how to manage it.
You can create an effective environment where even if people are not the same, they will be united by their goal to create value in learning from their experiences together. You need to have a plan about how you will set ground rules, communicate with each other and develop norms for how the difficult discussions will be both managed and honored. Whether it is in a mediation session, or a training room, it is important to focus only on the actions that create a shift or change in the parties’ behaviours. By creating a tone of collaboration, a space for discussing the issues and follow through with how you will manage the discussion, you build trust. This trust encourages the parties to want to engage in the difficult conversations that lay ahead.
The following video provides you with an overview of how to stop avoiding and start planning for conflict resolution:
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Have a wonderful rest of your day!
Until Next Time,
Living life to its fullest. Building mighty communities through connection, belonging, security, and love. I am founder and CEO at Peak Conflict Solutions and my purpose in life is to show your workplace how to set the tone for connection, belonging, and security while creating space for conflict management.