Approach Work Conflict with a Coaching Mindset
Most of us have experienced an uncomfortable situation at work with a colleague that resulted in a conflict, heightened emotions, or ideological differences. While some conflict averse individuals use avoidance to sweep problems under the rug, that technique does not solve the issue and often results in festering and rumination that can be emotionally debilitating.
While addressing conflict may seem daunting, approaching the dysfunction with a coaching mindset will help you create a healthier work environment that supports open communication, psychological safety, and cognitive diversity. We don’t have to always agree with each other, but we can role model professional behavior by treating people with dignity and respect.
Assume Positive Intent
Disappointment, mistakes, and failures happen on every team and the knee-jerk reaction is often to blame or shame. We often judge the mistakes of another more harshly than our own, but this behavior can be changed. By assuming positive intent, we should give people the benefit of the doubt and believe they had positive intentions. Identify the situational facts and get the details of the bigger picture before you jump to conclusions.
Leading with curiosity about intention is a healthier way to communicate and changes the confrontational approach to a listening and learning opportunity. This diffuses emotions on both sides and works towards establishing, or deepening trust.
Check Your Emotions at the Gate
You can’t logic your way through emotions, as stated by Catherine Plano in a great piece on Medium. But you can recognize your emotional triggers and better understand how to manage your professional communication and composure, so your message honors the content you wish to share and not the rollercoaster feelings you may be experiencing.
Difficult conversations are tough, so, process the emotions in a safe space that honors your psychological safety. If you communicate with heightened emotions, it changes how people remember what you say. The adage – “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” – is spot on in this scenario.
Clear Is Kind
The goal of addressing conflict is to honor the input of both parties and work towards a resolution. You must clarify your own interests and that of the other person.
Brené Brown comes to mind with her Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind philosophy. Some leaders avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Brown’s research found that the cultural norm of being “nice and polite” led to unresolved conflicts, diminished trust, and engagement, increased problematic behavior, and decreased performance due to lack of clarity and shared purpose.
According to Brené Brown:
“Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind.”
Real conversations can be tough and Brené Brown’s Rumble technique can help.
“A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back, when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.” – Brené Brown
Some helpful Rumble conversation starters include:
- I’m curious about
- Tell me more
- That’s not my experience
- I’m wondering
- Help me understand
- Walk me through this
- What’s your passion around this?
- Tell me why this doesn’t fit/work for you
At the heart of conflict is lack of clarity and misalignment. If we open our hearts and our minds to have courageous conversations and lead with the vulnerability of: “I’m wrestling with this…” it breaks down the barrier of them vs. us and puts both parties on the same page.
Listen More, Talk Less
No matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides. While we know there are two sides to every story, it’s easy to jump into blaming and shaming. Active listening is essential here allows for an open mind until all the information is on the table to consider.
Approach the conversation with curiosity and lead with cues like “Tell me more…” or “Did I understand you correctly?” and restate what you heard. It’s not unusual that conflict scenarios involve more than a single person, so let everyone participate and have their say.
Accountability is important and owning your part in the conflict to create a culture that makes it safe to fail forward. Having the humility to own your mistakes and approach what’s next with a growth mindset, not matter what side of the conflict you are on. Each party has an opportunity to grow and learn from the conflict.
Clarify Next Steps
Identifying a common goal, or resolution is the most desirable outcome for resolving a conflict. You must identify the root cause, or issue that led to the problem and ideally come together to discover how to work towards a common goal or a resolution to the original problem.
Solution generation is the best part of conflict resolution because both parties come together to generate ideas, or compromises that are agreed upon together. The goal is to find the common ground, or an idea that is acceptable for both parties. Compromise and negotiation are opportunities to practice the art of the possible with a fresh start and a commitment by both parties to keep open lines of communication.
Great leaders know how to listen with curiosity, assume positive intent and bring on a healthy rumble to work through conflict. These skills can be honed and take a commitment to continuous growth and development.