A little common sense and preemptive action can defuse conflicts before they get out of hand. These tips will help you manage and resolve touchy situations.
One of the most important skills you can learn and develop is how to deal successfully with conflict. Successful individuals seem to have an inherent understanding of what causes conflicts and how to resolve them quickly. For others, however, it's much harder.
During my 30 years in executive suites and boardrooms, I've worked with people at all levels, in a wide swath of industries and across many countries. During those periods, I've learned that the best conflict managers often employ a few common approaches to prevent or overcome potential issues before they become major obstacles.
Use the following tips and tactics in your professional as well as your personal life. It could help you to become one those great "conflict resolution experts" that others may call on for help.
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1: Ask questions
Conflict can arise due to poor communication — someone didn't say what they meant to say or perhaps misstated what was intended. Before you allow an escalation, ask questions. It won't cause any loss of face, and may result in a quick resolution.
2: Analyze expectations
Often, conflicts develop as a result of unmet expectations on one side. If the other party — expected something they didn't get or something that didn't happen, the whole conversation can become negative and closed. If a conversation seems to be getting rocky, take a step back and review together with the other person to try to uncover what just occurred.
3: Recognize differing perspectives
Keep in mind that conflict may arise due to people having different perceptions. You, or the other person, saw things differently. This happens most frequently when one is dealing with someone from another organization, background, or culture. It's easy to believe that we all see things the same way and then get derailed unexpectedly.
4. Identify mistakes
Honest and unintended mistakes frequently result in conflict. Before you let temperatures rise, do a reality check of your understanding with the other person(s). Mistakes, even small ones, can erode one's credibility — someone made a mistake.
5: Watch out for emotional triggers
Beware of emotions. Fear of someone or somebody, loss of face, whether real or perceived, anger, and surprisingly even excitement can all result in unintended conflict, which may cause your interaction to go downhill.
6: Focus on preventing escalation
Conflict resolutions always start with one or both parties making an honest attempt at avoiding further escalation. This recognition, even if only by one of those involved, often causes a more objective review to occur.
7: Take action to control the situation
Escalation-avoidance tactics may involve one of more key steps including separating the parties, changing the location of the discussion, signaling empathy to the other involved.
8: Commit to working it out
Take charge of the process by committing to reach a resolution. A powerful impact occurs when one person makes this statement. It can turn down the temperature immediately.
9: De-escalate the conflict
De-escalation is next: This can be accomplished with a joint statement of the facts at hand, always eliminating exaggerations, embellishments or personalities, which may inadvertently apply judgments and re-created the cycle of escalation.
10: Stay calm
Cooler heads prevail in even the most difficult conflicts. Whether you're in a business or personal situation, you can take control of it by keeping cool. And when you're maintaining your calm, it will be easier for others involved to get back to the task at hand.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.