Resolving Conflict – Tips and Techniques

“Choice of Words” matter – Be sensitive to it

1. Avoid “Always or Never”
When confronting someone, refrain from using the words always or never. When you say to someone: “You always…” or “You never…,” the other person is going to focus more on that one word than on the point you’re trying to make and is likely to become instantly defensive. Rarely is anything always or never.

2. Avoid “You”
The number one rule when resolving conflict is never to open a conversation with the word you. Doing so may result in anger, yelling, hurling accusations back and forth, or someone stomping off. The you word is going to immediately put the other person on the defensive.

3. Focus on the “I”
When you’re having an issue with another person and decide to discuss it with him or her, it’s difficult to have a productive conversation when you lead off with an accusatory statement or one that sounds as though you’re blaming the person for the problem. When you confront someone who’s done something that bugs you, keep the focus on “I” rather than on “you.” Think about how the person’s behavior made you feel. Open the conversation with an “I” statement describing how the event affected you, and you’ll come across in a more constructive manner. After all: “I’m” the one with the problem. “You” may not even know that what you’re doing that bugs me.

4. “I” Phrase
You don’t want your opening statement to sound like an attack the other person’s character, so always begin with an “I” phrase:
“I was hurt when you said I make too many mistakes.”
“I became upset when you took credit for my work.”
“I felt betrayed when I heard that you talked behind my back.”
“I became confused and lost focus when you interrupted me during my sales presentation.”
“I was surprised when you jumped in before I had time to finish.”
“I get frustrated every time you talk so loudly that I can’t hear my customers.”

If you don’t know how to launch into your conversation, try prefacing your “I” phrase by saying something like: “I have something I need to talk to you about” or “I have something I need to get off my chest” or “Something happened that’s been bothering me.”

“I have something I want to talk to you about. Yesterday during our meeting, I became upset when I was in the middle of my presentation and you disagreed with what I was saying. That really threw me off track for the rest of my presentation.”

5. Phrase of Understanding
Opening your conversation with “I” phrases keeps the focus on how the other person’s actions made you feel. After listening to that person’s response, it’s important to let the person know you understand that he or she may view the situation differently. By doing this, you demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to the other perspective before drawing your conclusion or assigning blame.

Offering a phrase of understanding allows you to step into the other person’s shoes for a moment. Let’s say that a coworker has been short tempered with you. It’s been bugging you because you can’t think of anything you did to cause the person to treat you this way, so you offered an “I” phrase and your coworker said he was sorry. Then you offered a phrase of understanding such as: “I realize you didn’t do that on purpose, but it made me wonder if I said or did something that bothered you.” Saying this encourages your coworker to give you more information: “No, it’s not you. My mother had a pretty serious operation and since she was released from the hospital I’ve been staying with her. I’m beyond exhausted and running on empty.” You have an aha moment. In this scenario, offering a phrase of understanding and walking in your coworker’s shoes put everything in perspective.

Example : “Look, I realize that you wouldn’t do that on purpose to upset me.” The ball is in the other person’s court now. She responded: “Of course I didn’t do it to upset you. I didn’t know if I’d have the opportunity to voice my opinion if I didn’t speak up right away.” They now have a constructive dialogue going.

6. Phrases of Apology
Saying I’m sorry doesn’t necessarily mean saying you’re wrong. Saying I’m sorry means you’re the one who’s taking responsibility for resolving the conflict and mending the relationship. You might offer an apology to explain your state of mind, how you feel about what happened, or why you felt the need to bring up the issue.

Offering a phrase of apology can go a long way in opening the lines of communication and productively moving the dialogue along. A sincere apology holds a great deal of power. It can diffuse anger, lessen pride, and soothe hurt feelings. You won’t always need to incorporate a phrase of apology into your conflict resolution conversation, but if you feel it’ll help move the dialogue along, why not? Whenever you’re at a stalemate in your discussion and the other person isn’t willing to budge or look at the situation from your perspective, offering an apology can often change a person’s disposition.

Offer a phrase of apology whenever you feel it will encourage empathy between the other person and you.
“I’m sorry if I seem overly sensitive.”
“I’m sorry if I misunderstood your intent.”
“I’m sorry that we need to have this conversation.”
“I apologize if I misunderstood what happened.”
“I regret that I have to bring this up.”
“Please forgive me for feeling this way.”

7. Phrases of Compromise

Compromise is the optimum way to resolve conflict. People are usually able to reach a compromise when they remain flexible, ask questions to gain a better understanding of the situation, listen with an open mind, look at the circumstance from the other person’s perspective, and try to find middle ground. When people who are in a conflict discussion are able to compromise, the chances of agreeing on a solution greatly increase.
Communicating phrases of compromise means that you want to negotiate fairly and find the best solution and that you’re willing to remain open as you work toward an agreement. Phrases of compromise demonstrate that you want to cooperate, listen, and find middle ground. When you’re willing to cooperate, others will be more apt to cooperate with you. When you’re open to listening, others will be more apt to listen to you. And when you’re trying to find middle ground, others will be more apt to meet you halfway. When those things occur, you’re on your way to negotiating a suitable conclusion.

When you open your conversation with an “I” phrase and offer a phrase of understanding and your colleague doesn’t take responsibility, you’ll want to add a phrase of compromise to continue the dialogue.
“Let’s talk about this. I need to know why it happened and how we can keep it from happening again.”
“Can we talk about what happened?”
“I feel that we need to talk this out so it doesn’t happen again.”
“Let’s go somewhere in private and try to resolve this.”
“Let’s talk this over and find a suitable compromise.”
“I’d like to hear how you saw the situation so that I better understand.”
During your discussion to resolve the problem, it’s important to remain flexible so you’ll want to incorporate additional phrases of compromise.
“Here’s how you see the issue: ________. And here’s how I see it: ________. Let’s see where we can come together on this.”
“Since we don’t agree why this happened, let’s lay out the facts and come up with a solution we both can live with.”
“Why don’t we each state our viewpoints? Then we’ll see if we can find common ground.”
“We need to resolve this somehow. The only way to do that is for each of us to be flexible and try to come together.”

Timing is important when you’re trying to resolve conflict of any kind, so before beginning your discussion, make sure it’s a good time. When Kate asked Emma if she had a few minutes to talk, she made sure that Emma was open to having the conversation at that time. If now isn’t a good time for the other person, ask when it will be and then schedule a time that’s agreeable to both of you.

It’s a good idea to restate the resolution just in case you misinterpreted what you and your coworker agreed to.

8. Phrases of Resolution

When each of the involved parties is able to voice their opinion, listen to each other’s perspective, compromise, and agree on a solution, everyone feels good about the outcome. That’s how many conflict resolution discussions go.

Offering a phrase of resolution is an important next step. You want to make sure that everyone truly is in agreement about the outcome and, in the event that you aren’t able to garner agreement from all the involved parties, you want to make sure that everyone understands why this is the best solution.

For example, during a discussion on the best way to resolve billing mistakes, you agree to manage it at the point of contact, but one member of your team feels that the employee who was responsible for the error should handle the problem. As the meeting winds down, you need to gain the hold-out’s agreement to the resolution by explaining why that solution was chosen: “Look, Josh, we understand that you feel differently. (understanding) But, if we turn the contact over to another employee, there’s going to be a delay in getting the problem resolved. It’ll take extra time to explain the situation. And, what if the employee’s on vacation? Since the rest of us feel this is the best way to handle these errors, can you live with our decision?” (resolution) Josh responds: “I see your point. In the past we’ve been inconsistent in handling these types of problems but as long as we’re all handling them the same way, then I’ll agree.”


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