Last year there was an unfortunate incident at a military base in the United States. I am talking about Fort Hood. An individual started shooting people. Within hearing range of the shooting a graduation ceremony was taking place. Attending the graduation were medics and other trained personnel. In the midst of this sad crisis, something interesting happened. Many of the participants in the graduation ceremony heard the gunfire and dropped everything and ran towards it. Maybe it was their training, maybe it was their instinctual reactions (I think both); but not everyone ran toward the gunfire. That is not a statement that is meant to speak either for or against the people who did not run into the situation. (I believe most of us are conditioned to run away.) It is merely an observation.
Some people will run willing towards a situation of violence and try to intercede. We need all of us, those who run forward and those who do not. We need those of us who do not, to call for backup and remain unharmed to deal with the aftermath. I am talking about different approaches and different forms of courage.
When it comes to conflict, you have a natural response. I hope your natural response is not tested in the same way as the graduates at Fort Hood. I hope your response is put to the test in non-violent everyday workplace scenarios.
In the middle of a meeting, two co-workers get in a verbal dispute. One person insults the other. You’re not the boss and your boss is not present.
What do you do?
I’m asking you to muster up your courage (if you don’t love handling conflict) and to step in and say to both parties “Hey, let’s stop the name calling, let’s back up here, let’s cool off and let’s revisit why we’re having this dispute.”
Step in and work to bring people back from unhealthy to healthy conflict and get them to a place where they can have a calm, logical conversation.
If they can’t and the conflict does not have to be resolved right now, suggest that everyone take a break and reconvene at another time. Now you think about the situation, approach others, ask their opinions and help to select the right way to resolve the conflict.
When a conflict arises someone also needs to rise to the occasion to ensure the conflict does not go unresolved. Why can’t that person be you?
Q) Margaret, I once read or heard (because I read your articles and I have seen you speak) you say something about trying to be compassionate towards the difficult people in our lives. Are you really asking ME to feel empathy toward someone who is a big flaming jerk to me?
A) Yes I really am asking YOU to feel empathy toward that big flaming jerk. And I will ask you take it even farther and develop feelings of kindness towards them and take it beyond the feelings of kindness and treat them kindly even when they are being a huge flaming jerk. (Thank you for that phrase, as you can see I am loving it!)
Why on earth do I ask you to do all that? First of all, because you are part of my community and I believe that you are capable. In general people who are not willing to grow themselves in this manner don’t consistently read my articles or listen to me speak. Second, I believe that YOU will benefit from this behavior and I also believe that that big flaming jerk will benefit too. The truth is many of us assume that someone who treats us poorly is doing it because of us. They are doing it because of a choice they are making. So from the very beginning we can feel empathetic toward them and the fact that something is going on in their life which is leading them to lash out at you.
As-of right now, let’s you and I agree to stop saying huge flaming jerk (as fun as it might be) and call this person your opportunity person. Or you can come up with another phrase. What you want is to use a phrase that is positive, that recognizes that person is providing you with the ability to strengthen yourself and your conflict resolution skills.
Of course you see the necessary first step. It is to be willing to start the process of being compassionate to this person and this means opening your mind to the possibility that you can and will think positive thoughts about this person.
What’s next? Right now I am going to refer you to a previous article ‘How Am I Supposed to Do That?’ because it too discusses this same topic and gives you some steps to assist you as you learn how to deal with your opportunity person.
PS – Thank you so much for this question because it is one of the most popular things people either ask me about or like to debate me about.
Recently we have discussed steps to take to when you decide to step in and step up to conflict resolution. In ‘You Decide to Resolve a Conflict’ Part I and Part II one of the underlying assumptions was that you had time to plan your actions and the steps you would take to resolve the conflict.
All of that is really great when you can plan to face a conflict in advance. But some of you might be saying to me, “But conflict can’t be scheduled.” Yes, it’s true. Not all conflicts can be scheduled. Some situations happen right in front of you and you’re involved and you see that you need to stay involved. What do you do?
Do you say, “Okay, everybody, stop, we need to have a meeting about this later.” That isn’t always going to work. Let’s look at some techniques that will work.
1) If the conflict is unhealthy, you need to cool everyone down and bring discussion back to a level that is healthy. It’s like when you separate two children who are getting ready to punch each other, (I sincerely hope that your conflict is not about two people who are about to have a physical fight) you send them to their corners to calm down.
2) Remind everyone that we’re here to work on a business issue and EVERYONE needs to act like a professional.
3) Encourage them to state where they’re having conflict or what their issue is in a calm, professional manner; without blame and without calling name calling. Let each person have a turn to state what they believe to be the issue. Remind others to remain quiet and listen while others are speaking.
4) Many issues stem from misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities. Listen to people discuss the conflict, is there a basic issue about who should be doing what and when? If so, facilitate a conversation about roles and responsibilities.
5) Consider whether or not you are the right person to help resolve the conflict. You are already involved, you want to see it resolved and you’re trying; but perhaps your efforts are not working OR one of the parties isn’t receptive to you. You might be perceived as having too much bias. (Is one of the parties your best friend, then of course you have bias.)
6) If you are not the right person get a mediator. Bring in someone else who can resolve the conflict. It’s not about you personally resolving the conflict. It’s about the conflict being resolved in a healthy, productive manner.
7) What if you are one of the parties in the conflict? What responsibility do you have? Your responsibility is to behave like an adult professional, to let go of hard feelings, to really work on a solution that is best for the project or the customer or the company and not to insist on your way because it is your way. And you have a responsibility to do everything within your power to stop this from escalating into an unhealthy conflict. Even if the other person is calling you names and trying to make something more of it, you have a responsibility to be the stronger professional. Do not say or something that you’re going to be sorry about later.
Now what? Now you are ready to dig deep and work together towards the best resolution. The approach you take is very much like the approach we discussed In ‘You Decide to Resolve a Conflict’ Part I and Part II; you are just selecting the steps that fit the situation and using them right away.