8 Steps to Resolve Conflict
Do you have a conflict with someone in your life? If you do, follow these eight steps.
Conflict can be positive when opposing ideas lead to tension and passionate discussion with a resolution that follows. This wrestling of ideas and perspectives creates new awareness thus strengthening a relationship. However, when conflicts are not discussed and resolved, they invariably lead to destruction. Take two business partners, where one believes he got cheated. Or consider a couple, where one person feels constantly belittled. In both cases, these conflicts must be resolved otherwise a fracturing is likely to take place. When a conflict starts brewing, remember to apply the following principles:
- Act quickly. As a leader, you must take responsibility and act quickly when you sense the swirling winds of conflict circling your relationship. In a conflict, both sides usually feel wronged, and most of time both sides have a small part that contributes to that conflict. It is said that the longer one waits to admit wrongdoing, a weakness is seen as a wickedness. So if you are involved in a conflict, you must act quick. How quick? Every situation is different. I like 24 hours as a general rule, but quicker if possible. Two things have to happen before a healthy resolution can take place. Emotions (yours and theirs) need to have settled down. Also, give time for reflection and gathering information if needed, but do it quickly. When you act quickly as a leader to address conflict, the people you lead will respect you for it because it takes courage and initiative. People are attracted to those qualities in their leader.
- Address privately. When conflict is dealt with publicly and emotionally, you can guarantee further injury. It’s as simple as asking, “John, do you have a few minutes to discuss what happened in the conference room earlier?”
- Apologize sincerely. Apologizing unlocks the handcuffs that conflict often puts on both parties. When there is a conflict, often neither party wants to admit any wrongdoing. If you believe you are only 20% at fault, start by apologizing for that 20%. The secret to success is to recognize what you did wrong even if it is a small part of what created the conflict. It may simply have been that you reacted poorly to a lie the other party clearly engaged in. Even though you desperately want John to admit to the lie and apologize for it, do not start with that. Rather say, “John, I am sorry I reacted so harshly earlier.” Leave it at that. Don’t even mention the perceived lie. Maybe they do not see what they did as a lie, but “protecting someone.” Give them a chance to explain. The more you are sincere in your apology the more likely the other party will come clean and the whole matter will be diffused.
- Listen earnestly. People often feel slighted because the other party simply has not listened. This is interpreted as apathy. By listening, you are not admitting that you agree with what happened, but that you value them. Remember that no one?even a condemned criminal?likes to be looked at as a liar, thief, or having low character, low morals, or low maturity as a person, even if they have done these things. When I feel like someone is looking down on me, I shut down. It’s over, even though I might know that I was wrong. The better way to view people?any person at anytime?is as a person of high character and maturity who had a slip up. Because we all have slip ups. character blemishes. Right? To listen well, we must have the right mindset of zero contempt toward the other person, otherwise we give off a contemptuous vibe. Here is how you listen. After you say, “John, I am sorry for the way I approached you harshly earlier,” stop and let strategic silence work. In my experience, John will come clean then and there. He may say, “I know what I said did not seem like the truth. I am so sorry…” He will explain what happened. But what if he does not explain what happened? (I will tell you what to say in a minute.)
- Speak calmly. When it’s your turn to speak, sit down, and don’t raise your voice. Be gentle. Many feel that a gentle approach means a weak, ineffective approach. Not true. Never mistake gentleness as avoiding to say what needs to be said. You can say anything if it is respectful and kind. What if the other person is not calm? Or not respectful? What if they even become angry? When either party is emotional or angry, they are both walking on thin ice. At any moment, there could be disaster. What to do? Either delay the conversation or call it out. “John, I know this is emotional for both of us. Would it be okay to sleep on this tonight and resume tomorrow?” Remember that when people are angry or emotional, they usually don’t recognize it. They may think they are making an impassioned plea to be heard or correct the truth, but to others it might appear as anger. You may say something like, “John, this seems to be upsetting you (or making you angry).” This causes the person to think about their emotional state, bringing it into awareness. Many times, they calm down. From your end, commit to staying calm. Don’t give emotions a foothold in communication.
- Solve tactfully. Let’s say John does not admit to lying. Do you just apologize and leave it at that? No. That approach is gentle, but incomplete and without boundaries or courage. Solving tactfully means saying what needs to be said, but in a wise and mature manner, remembering that you are an imperfect human and a poor judge of reality. “John, I have to be honest. What you said earlier did not seem like the whole truth to me.” Then, stop. Silence. John may now explain or come clean. Either way, here the key word is solve. Many times, people talk about what happened, but they do not put on the table for deep discussion the actual cause of the friction. Don’t dance around the issue. Address it and solve it head on.
- Wait patiently. Sometimes, only one meeting is not enough to resolve a conflict. Seek help. Don’t give up. Take time to reflect, pray, seek council, then circle back and resolve it. Unresolved conflict always has a way of coming back from the dead and haunting the relationship. However, don’t ignore it, it will become the elephant in the room. As my mentor Rev. Peter Rahme teaches, “Always address the elephant in the room, otherwise the relationship will suffer.”
- Act gracefully. It is rare when there is conflict that we don’t harbor current or future negative feelings. This results in lack of love and grace. Grace is undeserved favor, and great leaders offer grace to those around them and those they lead, especially when there is conflict.
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