If you live, work, play, or worship with other people, conflict is bound to find you. The real question becomes how you choose to respond to it. And a choice it always is, even if an unconscious one. While ODS training teaches many skills and techniques for working through tough issues, I’ll be the first to admit that we need to pick our battles. Let’s explore each option in turn.
1. Pretend the Conflict Doesn’t Exist.
This is the least effective option and is only appropriate as a coping mechanism in situations over which we have zero control and influence. Picture a young child witnessing her parents having a civil but feisty argument; she’d prefer to think that things are just fine. As adults, these situations are rare. We know too much. It can take significant emotional and mental effort to act as if there is no problem – but recovering addicts readily say that denial is a wonderful thing, until it’s gone. Pretending a conflict doesn’t exist is like trying to hold a beach ball under water – the moment you get distracted it pops up in your face.
2. Accept it and Do Nothing.
Accepting reality is healthier than denial, but choosing to do nothing can still carry a high price. Often, while we do nothing, we ruminate over the unfairness of the unaddressed conflict. The other person can come to be a victim or a villain in our eyes. Sure, some issues resolve themselves without our personal help. But sometimes the dog we choose to let sleep curls up heavily on our chest. If that’s the case, we need to look at more options.
3. Complain to the Wrong Person.
Finally, motion! We take a step to get the conflict out in the open… but we avoid the person with whom we are struggling. We choose a safer, trusted confidant to vent our thoughts freely. When we finally acknowledge the intensity of our feelings, we are often surprised by them; this beach ball had been down there a while. Unfortunately, our friend can’t solve the problem. Plus, they may wonder what we are saying about them when they’re not around. So this was pretty futile.
4. Make a Power-Play
We choose this option when we want the conflict over now. “Because I said so, that’s why.” This is the classic win/lose scenario. The teenager, or boss, who storms out of a room. Responding to conflicts with power-plays usually spawns additional turmoil, which goes underground. Even the winner loses. We know this; it’s why after a power-play we often find ourselves apologizing. I once had a boss stop me in mid-sentence, then he drew a box below another box with a connecting line between them. He pointed to the top box, “Here’s me,” then to the bottom box, “Here’s you.” “Any more questions?” It was a masterful power-play, and it killed our relationship.
5. Work Together on a Compromise.
Both parties actively discuss the conflict, which is, naturally, a requirement to actually resolving it with mutual agreement. The key here is that a solution is found somewhere “in the middle” of the two established positions. This response is miles ahead of the 4 above, but if there’s a flaw it’s that both parties leave the discussion somewhat disappointed. It’s more negotiation or diplomacy than true teamwork. Still, a handshake and a true resolution are established.
6. Resolve with Both Parties Satisfied.
Here, win/lose thinking has no place. The discussion takes a little longer as both people must be able to speak their minds and still walk away pleased with the outcome. Mutual active listening must take place, accompanied by a willingness to be influenced by the other person. Unlike compromise where a certain amount of conflict avoidance is still hanging around, choosing this option makes both parties roll up their sleeves to find some common ground and perspective. This is where trust is built.
7. Use the Opportunity to Advance the Team.
This is the pinnacle of conflict resolution and it does not happen without serious commitment and skill. The hallmark of this option is that both parties abandon their personal positions in favor of finding a new, more powerful course of action that neither would have thought of on their own. Conflict is seen not as a problem but as a chance to show how committed the parties are to each other and to their shared success. Stress fades quickly in the pursuit of greater objectives than our private interests. Plus, it’s a blast.
ODS training programs equip participants with the framework and skills to choose options 6 and 7 regularly and with confidence. The needed behaviors are both practical and fun. Best of all, we learn how to release those beach balls we are busily hiding today.
ODS is filling our next Building Trust through Improved Interpersonal Communications workshop, currently scheduled for May 8-9 in Wooster, Ohio. Email here to grab your seat!