Performance Communication

When it comes to conflict, you can be the water or the gasoline. Be the water.

When it comes to conflict, you can be the water or the gasoline. Be the water.

We all face conflict in every aspect of our lives. We might have family feuds at home and war waging in the workplace. We have conflict (or potential conflict) over parking spaces and spots in line.

When it comes to conflict, you have a choice to make. Do you want to be the water or the gasoline?

Unless you’re a jerk, you should probably strive to be the water in most situations. I’m not saying conflict situations shouldn’t be addressed, but choosing your battles and timing are everything. When you cool down or diffuse conflict situations, very often, both you and the other person can look at the situation more reasonably and less defensively.

Here are four ways to be the water when the flames of conflict start growing:

  1. Agree with the other person about SOMETHING.
    In most situations, there is something in the other person’s complaint or position that’s true. The biggest mistake that most people make is ignoring that thing and fighting for some other point. If you want to get someone to start cooling off, one of the best ways to do it is to say, “You’re right…” For example, “You’re right, it is frustrating when you feel like someone isn’t listening to you.” Or, “You’re right, it can seem unfair when you’re asked to do a task that isn’t in your job description.” By saying “you’re right,” you’re saying, “I hear you.” Once people feel heard, they often begin the process of calming down.
  2. Focus on the future, not on the past.
    Playing the “blame game” trying to get another person to admit a bad situation was their fault or defending yourself against blame when you feel you’re not responsible for something isn’t a good use of your time and doesn’t help things cool off. Instead, focus on the future. How do you and the other person want to see the situation resolved? You might say, “The bottom line is, it happened. What can we do to avoid the situation from happening again?” Or, “Well regardless of how it happened, what are our next steps for moving forward?”
  3. Use time to your advantage.
    When the other party is angry or upset or their comments or actions cause you to be, discussing the situation when emotions are high is just asking for the situation to escalate. Take a time out. Ask for time to think about what the other person has told you. This will allow both of you to cool off and gather your thoughts before proceeding. You could say, “I need some time to think about what you’ve said before responding. Can I come see you at 3 pm (or tomorrow), so we can continue the conversation.
  4. Know when to let it go.
    In some situations, such as when someone takes YOUR parking spot in the grocery store lot, the best option is to just move on. The risk involved in discussing the conflict is probably going to outweigh the reward. You’ll probably never see that person again and besides, the odds that they’re going to say, “You’re right, this is your spot. Let me move my car and let you have it,” are pretty slim. The odds that it’s going to turn into a shouting match or worse, are probably much higher. However, the same goes for other conflict situations. Knowing when NOT to address a problem and when NOT to “take the bait” when someone makes a negative comment is just as important a skill as having the skills to discuss a conflict effectively.

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