We Can Be Right, and Still Be Wrong

We have three choices when faced with conflict. We can avoid it, ignore it, or confront it. To “confront” it does not mean to be confrontational, it means to address it, to deal with it. Sometimes the best approach is to ignore it. Sometimes the best approach is to confront it. It is never a good idea to avoid conflict. Our personality, experience, and confidence (or lack of it) often govern which approach we select. To manage conflict effectively, we need to dig deeper. I have written before that I write what I need, which I hope also benefits my readers. This subject is one that I am facing presently in at least three situations. Hopefully, it will help others as well as help me to clarify what I need to do in the situations I am facing.

First, what is conflict? As I often do when analyzing something, I looked up the word in the dictionary. I do not think the dictionary definitions (“an extended struggle, battle, and a clashing disagreement”) of conflict are complete enough. But of those choices, I select “disagreement,” leaving the “clashing” out. The disagreement can range from unspoken to clashing. Conflict can be overt, which is out in the open, or covert, which is hidden. Of these two, overt is healthier, if it is managed well.  Covert conflict can eat us up from the inside and do nothing to resolve the conflict. Overt conflict can be damaging and not resolve the conflict if certain principles are not followed. The following information can help us manage conflict overtly yet respectfully.

Let’s start with our personality, and how it effects our “natural, or instinctive” approach when faced with conflict. As a result of our personality, (which is more complex than just this aspect of it) our “natural” behavior is either non-assertive, assertive, or aggressive. Of these, assertive behavior is best in most situations, although not all. I will leave this part of the discussion without further analysis, or we will get too much “into the weeds.”

After clearly understanding our natural style via our personality, we need to do the same analysis for the other person, the one with whom we have (overtly or covertly) a conflict. We may be assertive to aggressive in our style, while the other person may be non-assertive to aggressive. Or our personalities may be more alike or different than what has been mentioned. To accomplish our desired result, the expected behavior of the other person becomes more important than our natural behavior. This is where we implement the Platinum Rule instead of the Golden Rule. (A good explanation of these can be found in a previous blog of mine, found at http://www.fralixgroup.com. “Which Do You Prefer, Platinum or Gold?” posted on March 3, 2015.)

Dr. Stephen Covey, world renowned philosopher and teacher, chronicled in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the best information I know for managing conflict. The first habit, “Begin with the End in Mind” is our starting and ending point. This basically means that we should determine our desired result before deciding if we will ignore or confront the conflict. A couple of examples will help to understand the importance of this.

If our desired result, or outcome, is to maintain the relationship, we may choose to ignore some things that we do not want to ignore, or that we would confront if doing so would not damage the relationship. To “not damage the relationship” has two components, one which is practical, and one which is emotional. The practical component can include that by doing so we will not get what we want. The emotional component includes that the relationship may be irrevocably damaged. We need to be very clear about our desired result, the other person’s natural style, and how best to work with that, to accomplish our goal. If our desired result is to exert control and we are not concerned or are less concerned about the potential damage to the relationship, we may choose to be assertive or aggressive.   

Next, we need to decide if our communication with the other person is direct or indirect. Direct communication is bottom-line oriented, to the point, using less words, but words that are definitive. Example. “I am not satisfied with that answer.” Indirect communication uses qualifiers, yet still needs to be clear, just not too definitive, or direct. (The “too” is a qualifier.) Example. “I am not sure that your answer is complete enough.” (“not sure” and “enough” are qualifiers.) Qualifiers are used to “soften” what is being said, not to be unclear, but so the other person does not hear what is being said as aggressive. When one chooses direct communication, word choice is especially important, and the person speaking should “own” what is being said, not “accusing” the other person. Example. It is better to say, “I am not satisfied with that answer,” than “You are not being transparent.”

Other important aspects of managing conflict effectively are timing and location. Location means that a neutral location is better than a location that would make the other person less comfortable. Example. A round table in a conference room is better than one’s office with the authority of a desk between the two people. The best timing may be at the end of the day when no work follows instead of the beginning of the day. Other considerations related to timing and location many need to be considered.

To this point it is assumed that managing conflict is best done in person, not by email or text. While that is true, it is not always possible or even practical. It may be done virtually given our current reality. Is virtual as good as in person? No, but it is better than written. If it is necessary for the “discussion” involving conflict to be done in writing, decide if email or text is best. Email is best if it is lengthy or complex, text if it can be short. Anytime written communication is selected as the method for managing a situation involving conflict, it is even more important to determine the best communication style, direct or indirect, and that words used are not negative or likely to precipitate a negative reaction. Written communication magnifies words used and style and does not include the opportunity for most of the non-verbal aspects of communication to modify, or soften, what is being communicated.

This is by no means a complete or even thorough discussion or analysis of managing conflict. It is only a starting point. However, the points included can help you accomplish your goal in managing conflict.

Unless your goal is to be right. If your goal is to be right, expect that the goal of the other person may become to prove you wrong.      

About Patti Fralix

Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life, and family through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching in three specialty areas: Leadership, Managing Differences, and Customer Service. Her leadership firm, The Fralix Group, Inc., has been helping clients achieve practical and tangible results for twenty-two years.
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