Tangled Up in Conflict

When you get into a disagreement – at work, at home, or with a friend – how long does it take for one issue to multiply into several complaints, criticisms, or resentments? You’re meeting a colleague for lunch and she’s late. And it’s not the first time. Then you recall how you’re the one who always calls first and she never takes the initiative…and while you’re waiting, you just happen to remember a few more things that bug you.

Mary is a former client who likes to check in with me from time to time. She owns a landscaping business with her best friend, Claire. A few months ago, Mary was convinced that, given the highly competitive nature of their industry and the seasonal nature of getting clients, it was the ideal time to spend money on marketing.  Claire disagreed and made the case for investing in equipment. Pretty soon each is arguing the merits of her position. A potential discussion turned into a conflict. Then Claire started questioning how Mary makes conflictdecisions in general. Off and running…and it happened pretty quickly. Disagreements, accusations, hurt feelings…all knotted up together.

Then Mary remembered that it is much easier to work through conflicts when you use a clear process that everyone understands.

Stop The Power Plays

Most people don’t think about the mechanics of working through conflict – they believe it’s a matter of duking it out until one person gives in.

I’m sure you’ve witnessed it: people exerting power over each other…and the loudest voice, highest job title, greatest control over the money and many other kinds of power take over. Discussion is shut down, innovation is cut short, and resentment grows. Maybe it’s even happened to you.

You know when a difficult conversation is going nowhere or getting too hot. Maybe you feel it in your gut…a sense of confusion, losing track of your words, and maybe even shutting down. The lack of a clear-cut process creates confusion and leads to greater misunderstanding.

The way to avoid duking it out is to start with a process that guides the communication.

It can be as simple as agreeing that one person will speak first about what they want and why it is important to her, followed by the other person speaking about what is important to him. The next step can be a search for a compromise solution.

A Great Tool for Women

Women often feel more vulnerable than men when facing a conflict. Women anticipate greater risks to their relationships as well as feeling unprepared to negotiate for what they want.

Setting up a process about how you will talk about conflict and how you will make decisions can be the safety net that:

  • Increases predictability of how the conversation will go.
  • Guarantees everyone can be heard without raising voices.
  • Reduces the likelihood of power plays.
  • Increases the likelihood of fairness.
  • Improves the chances of finding agreeable solutions.

If you feel overwhelmed by conflict and start to shut down when people start talking over each other, think about setting up some kind of process that keeps the issues front and center, divides up the time so everyone can talk, and moves into problem solving sooner rather than later.

This month as part of this series on getting past fears about dealing with conflict, I am offering 5 complimentary breakthrough sessions on how to get free of your fears of conflict and be more effective with co-workers, clients and colleagues. You can sign up on here.


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