How long has it been since you got into conflict with someone? This morning? Last night? Five minutes ago? We walk into conflict situations constantly. Sometimes we know in advance that the situation we are about to enter is filled with landmines. But sometimes, conflict takes us by surprise when we were expecting to sail smoothly through the situation.
There are lots of reasons why that happens. Most often, it is because we either haven’t set the stage well enough, or we don’t know the people involved well enough — including ourselves.
Here at Ignite, my partner Deb and I often have conflicting ideas or approaches about how to work through a problem or achieve a goal. Because we use the following three tools when conflict arises, we have a strong relationship. When conflict arises, we take it head-on.
First, we both always try to “start with heart.” This is the foundational idea of the book, Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler). The authors suggest that in a crucial conversation, which generally is a conflict situation, you first have to get clear on what you want for yourself and for the relationship when you get to the other side of the conversation/situation. As partners, Deb and I know that on the other side, we want to still be partners who love working together, so we do what it takes – asking probing questions, stepping away to cool off or contemplate, and remembering to trust – to protect ourselves and the relationships.
Second, we each know how the other prefers to communicate. I like to work fast, check things off, and move on to the next thing. Deb, however, is more reflective. She likes to spend a bit of time thinking through the different aspects as well as the process that needs to be involved. Early on, I’ll admit this caused some tension. But now, we keep this at the forefront of our thinking and try to accommodate each other’s preferences. Knowing this about each other helps us avoid some unnecessary conflict.
Finally, we respect each other’s WHY, and fortunately, there is a lot of similarity between the two of us in what drives us. We both like to have lots of information about, well — everything. We both love new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. But Deb is much more collaborative than I am. I am a “Let me be in charge” person. Also, Deb focuses on ROI (which is great for our business), while that is not a real driver for me. Knowing these things about each other when conflict arises means we know how to give and take so that we aren’t going up against what is fundamentally driving the other person. Instead, we can negotiate based on what we know the other person needs in order to thrive.
What it really all comes down to is knowing ourselves, understanding the other person, and deciding what we want for the relationship. Those three things are essential to us as we navigate conflicts that inevitably arise. They are key to you as well, to have success in any conflict situation.