Resolving Conflicts at Work and at Home

IMAGE The legendary Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn was negotiating a contract with an actor who insisted that he was asking for $1,500 a week…"No, you're not," said Goldwyn. "You're asking for $1,200 and I'm giving you $1,000." Unlike the bullied actor, you can more successfully work out clashes at home and work if you know and use a handful of techniques.

Why Not Just Have It Out?

The best conflict resolution is not slash-and-burn warfare, in which one party emerges as top dog. Rather, conflict resolution is the way mature people trade things of value in a civil fashion. The goal is not to win at any cost, but to succeed. And the best mechanisms for that? Collaboration, listening, and good negotiation skills. Moreover, using mature conflict resolution saves time, reduces stress, prevents continuing hassles and—at work—increases productivity.

What Are Some Strategies?

"Disagreements of all sorts are better smoothed if you practice active listening," says Steve Cohen, owner of The Negotiation Skills Company and author of How to Fight Fires Without Burning Bridges . "In too many discussions, many people are only waiting for the other person to finish speaking so they can flatten him with an overpowering response." Adds Erik J. Van Slyke, author of Listening to Conflict: Finding Constructive Solutions to Workplace Disputes, "Don't use arguing, high-pressure persuading, cajoling, sulking, bullying, or foot stamping. In the midst of disagreement, these tactics fall on deaf ears. Nobody listens. And listening is the key to finding constructive resolutions." Here are some techniques for improving your conflict resolution skills:
  • Use your ears.—Active listening involves body language, like leaning forward, nodding your head, and summarizing what you have heard with statements like, "As I see it, you are saying…" When others see that you take them seriously and do not interrupt, they are likely to budge from rock-hard positions. "Good conflict management requires getting as much information as possible," says Patrick Williams, PhD, psychologist and personal business trainer in Palm Coast, Florida.
  • Stay cool.—In business negotiations, cooler heads usually prevail. For instance, if a usually obliging supplier seems stuck on an unusually high price, resist the urge to shout: "That is crazy!" If you are angry, take time to cool down. Take some deep breaths. Buy yourself some time by saying "I need some time to think about this." Defuse your anger by going for a walk, listening to music, or writing down your thoughts. Clear your mind to make room for some creative solutions.
  • Do not take sides.—Another way to neutralize difficult people is to move to the same side of the table, rather than to sit facing them. If you set up a chart or poster that you can both face, you will make the point that you are two people with a common interest, trying to work out a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Keep quiet.—Sometimes silence is golden. If one person is opinionated or emotional, threatening or demanding, quiet can be unsettling. Many aggressive people are troubled by silence amid heated discussions and back off untenable positions just to break the silence.
  • Take responsibility.—A good way to reduce conflict is to decide what each person is responsible for. "We all make choices," says Sharon Keys Seal, a conflict resolution coach in Baltimore. "And when it comes to missing or making a deadline, delivering results or excuses, one makes a choice. Often, people are just in the habit of making excuses. But, if you ask them to make better choices, you will put him or her back on track."
  • Try a little kindness.—Seal suggests using kindness in business and at home. For instance, if you have a spare moment and see somebody in a hurry waiting for the copy machine, let him use it first. "In a dog-eat-dog business setting, kindness will put peace into your heart and create friends all around you," Seal explains. It also puts people off guard so that they temporarily forget whatever it was they were upset about in the first place.
  • Avoid stumbling blocks.—Peel Health in Brampton, Ontario has published some general guidelines for resolving conflict. They recommend that you watch out for communication blocks, such as arguing, withdrawing, blaming, not listening, or changing the subject. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions, mind reading, or having unrealistic expectations.

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