Resolving Conflicts
STEP 1. Develop an Attitude of Resolution
Example: Developing an Attitude of Resolution
Susan headed up the legal department of a social services organization. I had been working with her organization, and one day she asked me to go to lunch to help her with something. Before leaving her office she called her mother, whom she lived with, and had a short cordial conversation. During the call, I watched Susan's behavior with her mother. She was relaxed, calm, and very loving. Obviously, she and her mother had a special relationship.
At the restaurant Susan immediately began telling me about one of the lawyers in her team whose performance had worsened over the previous six months. As his supervisor, she needed to have a coaching session with him, but was sure that this would result in disagreement and possibly conflict. She was nervous about the impending discussion. As she spoke, I again observed Susan's behavior. Her body tightened, her voice was tense, her face expressed anger, and her gestures were demanding. It was clear from her "nonverbal" signals that she was angry and frustrated with this lawyer, and that, in her present state of mind, her coaching session with him was headed for disaster.
This all happened within a few seconds of sitting down at the restaurant. I told Susan that we had plenty of time to discuss this, and asked her to tell me about her mother. Immediately her entire state of mind changed from one of anger to one of love, and her nonverbal signals changed too. Her body relaxed, the tension went out of her face, she smiled, and her tone of voice was more gentle and loving. At that moment, I stopped her. I asked her to feel the difference between her present state and the one of just a few seconds earlier. I then suggested that if she could work on herself prior to the coaching session and attempt to change her state of mind about this lawyer, that the chance of having a meaningful discussion without conflict would be significantly higher.
People read our nonverbal signals much faster than they hear our voices. So it is critically important in conflict resolution that we first work on ourselves to release some of the anger, hurt, frustration, and hostility. I told Susan to think of some of the good work the lawyer had done previously...just find something to like about him. I also asked her to consider that perhaps he is having other problems in his life that may be carrying over to his work. Most people do not want to perform poorly, so maybe something was affecting his work. Finally, I told her that if she could develop a sense of "love" for this lawyer, her entire demeanor in the coaching session would be more conducive to resolution. He would pick up her signals as helpful rather than criticizing and, most likely, respond accordingly.
Susan followed these suggestions, worked on herself, and told me later that the coaching session went very well.
Preparing yourself will not always create the kind of success Susan had, but it begins to stack the odds in your favor of creating the right environment...one of resolution.
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