Coach: Can you tell me how you deal with the conflict in your life?
Michael: Well to tell the truth I work hard to avoid as much conflict as possible.
Coach: If you do this well it can be a good thing. For example, there is a world of difference between taking initiatives to head off potential conflict than to just ignore it. When you just ignore it you buy trouble for yourself. Now tell me how you handle the conflict situations that you cannot avoid?
Michael: I see the conflict as a contest that I have to win or to lose. So I try to score points against my opponent and to get others on my side. I keep this up until he or she admit defeat.
Coach: This is how most of us deal with conflict. The downside is that it is self-defeating. Even if you win the contest and get your way it damages your relationship with your opponent and makes it difficult to work successfully with him or her in the future. So much so that when this is a person’s dominant style they quickly run out of people they can work well with.
Michael: I am very aware of this but I don’t know how to avoid it happening from time to time.
Stop seeing conflict as a contest
Coach: To start with you should stop seeing conflict as a contest. See it more as an opportunity to influence others. Then work on low-level conflicts to improve your skill at defusing them.
Michael: Do you mean low-level conflicts like having different views about how to do a task? Or disputes about what TV programme to look at.
Coach: That’s right. There is nothing much at stake so you can try out different ways of dealing with them. And as you build up your skill you can then begin to use it on more difficult conflicts.
In a conflict always try to find issues you can both agree on
Coach: Develop the habit of pausing for a minute or so and listen carefully as your opponent talks himself or herself out. Wait until you have heard all their arguments. Until you fully understand where they are coming from.
Michael: That calls for patience and not reacting to what they say. Do you mean not nodding in agreement or not shaking my head or frowning when they say something I do not agree with as well as saying it.
Coach: Exactly. Of course it is not easy to do but you will soon learn to master it. And you will be surprised how good you get at understanding where the other person is coming from. As you get better at this you will learn to spot some views they express that you can agree with. Then when they have finished making their case you can begin to agree with these points.
Michael: Okay. So I focus on issues that I can go along with. And when I find something substantial to agree with we both begin to move away from confrontation and to lay the ground for mutual problem solving.
Coach: Yes both of your views on the issues begin to blend together. And when you do this well you prepare the way for both of you to compromise on the issues that divide you.
Find ways to compromise on some of the conflict issues that divide you
Coach: Try to reframe the problem as a shared one. One you both want to solve. And work to expand the common ground between you.
Michael: So we try to move forward together sharing each others views. I imagine we should do this step by step. And start with the ones that we are more likely to agree on.
Coach: That’s it. And feel free to ask the other person to help you explore possible solutions you can both agree on. And you will find that in most cases people are more than willing to do this.