Interpersonal conflict is unavoidable, but there are many strategies to help strengthen your conflict resilience to make life easier. Learning how to advocate for yourself, navigate challenging conversations, and effectively communicate in difficult situations will have a direct impact on your overall results and sense of wellbeing. Most of us have never learned the skills to manage conflict; included here are a few key strategies to help get you started.

1. Understand Your ‘What’ and Your ‘Why’

Start by reflecting on what it is about the interaction that most frustrates you. This could be the perception of a sharply worded or snippy email, the frustration you feel if an idea you have is rejected, or the annoyance of someone’s perpetual lateness. When our emotions are heightened it can be hard to understand your what; but knowing the what of the equation is important in diagnosing conflict – and getting you to your why.

The ‘why ‘connects you to your personal values and when someone ‘steps on’ a core value it is likely to trigger a strong response. What is important to remember here is that they likely have a different set of core values; perhaps in this example you value deadlines, where they are less deadline driven and have a stronger value around flexibility and creativity. The point is, it’s not personal, it’s about preference. Understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ are key to bringing clarity to conflict and addressing the right issues that will move you to resolution.

2. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is crucial and one of the most underdeveloped leadership skills. By listening effectively, you can understand the other person’s ‘what’ and ‘why’.

Tactical strategies to practice active listening:

• Paraphrasing is a great way to demonstrate you are listening and will test your understanding of what is being communicated

• Non-verbal cues can provide insight into emotion, so pay attention to tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions

• Notice your instinct to interrupt, talk over, or finish someone’s sentence, or the familiar habit of focusing your attention on your response

• Ask powerful/insightful questions

3. Expand Your Perspective

When we are fixated on a specific outcome, or when our focus is on trying to control someone else’s behaviour, it causes immense suffering, stress, and anxiety. Amy Gallo suggests that we challenge our own perspective by reflecting on these questions:

• How do I know that what I believe is true?

• What if I’m wrong?

• How would I change my behaviour?

• What assumptions have I made?

• How would someone with different values and experiences see things?

By asking these questions, you may also gain clarity about your ‘what’ and ‘why’, which can free you from your self-imposed limitations.

We all have biases. Being aware of, and questioning these, can make you a more effective, objective, and self-aware leader.

4. Get Curious

When we get locked into a challenging dynamic with someone at work, we are often entrenched in negative thought patterns or a set of assumptions; suddenly everything they do becomes problematic or suspect. Getting curious about how your thought patterns are negatively influencing your behaviour, and potentially feeding negative assumptions, can snap you out of unproductive and reactive ways of thinking.

5. Have a Clear Outcome

What do you want?? Do you want this person to stop being unreliable, to stick to the plan, or to be on time? Is it that you want to get the project past the finish line or is it that you want to strengthen the relationship?

It could also be a longer-term goal – perhaps the outcome of this project could set you up for a promotion. Focus on your goal post and be prepared to ask for what you want and compromise. Identifying and communicating a desired outcome brings clarity to the situation and can help defuse heated dynamics.

Navigating the complexity of human relationships is complex. Focus on building interpersonal resilience so you feel less stressed when you’re engaged in a conflict. Practice with some of these strategies and remember, you aren’t aiming for perfection; you are aiming to build your conflict competency and improve personal results!

Written by Wylie Burke, the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Managing Workplace Conflicts and Talent Management programs.

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