The Ideal Trio for Managing Conflict

You do not have to look very far to see poor modeling of managing conflict. This past Thursday, during the opening round of the NCAA men’s tournament, 12-seeded Yale got past 5-seeded Baylor.

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That was a surprising first-round upset. What gave me some insight into the loss was a highlight clip of the game. Yale must have been making a run on Baylor, because it appeared as if Baylor’s coach had called a timeout.

As Baylor’s five guys on the court were getting into their huddle, one of the players must have not liked the attitude/decision/play of another player, because he verbally got into the grill of the other player. All of a sudden, the player who was getting chewed out retaliated by shoving his own player away in a response of anger.

Not exactly the way to pull your team together. Not exactly the way to manage conflict.

Shying away from conflict

I have been in many leadership positions over my vocational years, and regardless of the environment, people, or type of position, I have had to manage conflict. And over my 30 years in the workforce, I can tell you I have managed some conflict well and some conflict very poorly.

Unfortunately, conflict is neither enjoyable nor refreshing, and so many of us shy away from it or just resist it altogether. But the truth is that we are broken individuals living and working with broken individuals, and so conflict is going to happen.

If you do anything, do not ignore it.

So how do you deal with it? More importantly, how should you deal with it, and how can you do it more effectively?

My conflict-management skills have come a long way in the last 30 years. I am not saying that I have arrived in how I model these skills, only that I am handling the managing of conflict more biblically than I was in the past.

None of us go looking for conflict (at least I hope not!), but it is imperative that we have readily-available tools for when it arises. Because how you manage conflict will do one of two things: 1) either you will work others to better relationships, or 2) you will incite more harmful words or actions.

It is a choice.

So I would like to offer you three methods for managing conflict that I believe you will find helpful to you in your own context. Think of them as a package, though, and not stand-alone tools. Because though each of these is useful in their own right, their synergy of working with each other is what can enable you to be more powerful and compelling in your own leadership skills.

Never just one side

Some of the fallout of watching or reading news is that you seldom come away with a complete picture. In the current election process, how many allegations have been made against a candidate and you walk away just believing the one-sided view that you heard?

Negative news about a candidate who we do not support only bolsters support of the candidate we like. Positive news about “our candidate” only serves to align us closer to their views.

Hitting more close to home, how many times have I heard information about a friend or acquaintance and just assumed it was true? And how many times have I been locked into a mindset only to find out later that there were more facts that changed the overall picture?

If we are going to manage conflict well, one side of the story is only that – one side of the story. There are always two sides to a situation and we exhibit poor leadership when we hear one story and then make decisions or come to conclusions based off that one account.

Proverbs 18:13 warns us…

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

I should be eager to listen but slow to have something to say about it or slow to have a conclusion that is acted upon. We are so quick sometimes to want to hear the dirt on others that the biblical command to handle things rightly gets pushed to the background.

And we end up hurting our own integrity or worsening a situation.

When conflict comes onto your radar through the account of another, take the time to say, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I appreciate it. Let me do some additional follow up and then I will get an answer back to you.”

This is helpful for a couple of reasons: 1) it keeps you from getting sucked into the other person’s emotional black hole, and 2) it gives you time to contemplate a best solution.

Get both sides.

Make observations, not blanket statements

As a second element of this “package deal,” it is helpful to have the correct mindset when approaching a conflict. And this dispute or friction can be between you and another or between two outside parties.

There are two ways I can approach a dispute – either I can think I have all knowledge and understand all motives and make a judgement against another, or I can choose to make an observation that I am seeing in another.

Which of the two statements below causes a person to feel backed into a corner?

“I know your reason for doing this and it just shows what a selfish individual you are!”

OR

“Would you allow me to make an observation about something? I want to give the benefit of the doubt to you, but when you did this, it seemed  as if you were only thinking of yourself. Can you help me understand this situation better?”

Blanket statements reveal that motive has already been determined. On the other hand, making an observation allows room that you may not understand the entire situation and are willing to get the bigger picture.

And one other note – do you see how this fits hand-in-hand with getting both sides of a story? Making an observation conveys that you may not know all of the details and are willing to have your perception changed.

There is a tool I learned several years ago called OIC, and it stands for

  • observation
  • interpretation
  • clarification

It is powerful because of how it frames a conversation.

I have used it with others and shared it with many who were asking me how to handle a certain conflict in their life. If you are interested in understanding this process more, check out 3 Steps to Being a Better Communicator: OIC – An Amazingly Powerful Tool.

The soil of humility

Andrew Murray made a very relevant statement:

Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure.

I cannot stress how vitally critical it is that you have a God-given spirit of humility when managing conflict.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Ultimately, where conflict is going on, pride is somewhere in the mix. More pride only serves to throw kindling on an already-blazing fire. And when pride has been part of my resolving conflict, I certainly am not open to hearing all sides of a story or desiring to offer an observation.

On the contrary, I am looking to make a point and ensure my point is understood by all parties. How does that fit with Colossians 3:12-14?

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Your leadership will greatly suffer if you are not managing conflict well, whether that be between you and another or between outside parties. More importantly,  you are missing opportunities to lead others who can then lead others in how to manage conflict. I have learned much from my school of USC (University of the School of Consequences) and am buying more into biblical methods.

How are you with managing conflict? Do you need some better methods? Try out this trio of tools and let me know what you discover.

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