Conflict is uncomfortable.
You get a cold shoulder, a relationship doesn’t work out, missions aren’t aligned, political agendas get in the way, power struggles occur…the list goes on. In a profession that centers on communication, I see this every day in varying forms. However, the ways in which people deal with conflict can greatly impact the strength of long-term relationships and an organization.
The severity of conflict can vary from a serious disagreement to incompatibility. That’s a pretty big range! One of these can easily be overcome, while the other is nearly impossible. However, I believe the issue is rooted in our ability to communicate, listen and understand one another.
The Art of Listening
In public relations and marketing, we talk a lot about the importance of listening to your audiences and engaging in two-way communication. The same is true on the micro level. How many times do we drone on about our days (guilty) while the other party (my poor husband) patiently waits to get a word in? Particularly when we’re passionate about a topic, we enter the conversation in full force – armed with all the reasons why our way is the right way. While this passion is critical to the birth of great ideas, the tendency exists to shut down to anything that could stand in our way.
When faced with conflict, we should ask ourselves, “Did we truly listen to why this might be an issue?”
You Know What They Say About Assumptions…
Conflict often begins with misinterpretation or assumptions. The other side is speaking, we pretend to listen, but we don’t actually hear what’s being said. “Well, what they really meant was…” or “I bet they’re trying to…”
Peel back the layers a little more, and this can be caused by several underlying factors:
- Fear of _____.
Fill in the blank. Fear of change. Fear of an opposing viewpoint. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the other person. Fear of your own confidence. Ever heard of fight or flight? Fear can leave us going in with guns blazing or running in the other direction.
- Lack of transparency
In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he talks about trust as the basis for a strong team. He takes it a step further than trust falls and obstacle courses.
“Trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group,” Lencioni says.
The same is true in an organization’s conversations with the public. If there was ever a B.S. detector out there, it’s at an all-time high in today’s culture of skepticism. Better to come clean than to take the position of defensive.
- Misaligned expectations
Without proper research and S.M.A.R.T. goal setting, organizations run the risk of disappointment and failed expectations. What can the market support? What’s a reasonable expectation for your audience? What’s attainable, and what’s your stretch goal?
For cases that involve more interpersonal interaction, a conversation about expectations is essential to getting assumptions out of the way. The earlier this is done, the less room for frustration and resentment down the line.
I’ve yet to meet someone who loves conflict and isn’t just looking to win an argument. As much as we hate it, the reality is conflict isn’t going anywhere. We face it in every aspect of our lives at one time or another. However, running from it will only leave us bitter and uncomfortable. Take the opportunity to listen, get to the root of the issue and find the common ground.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” – Ronald Reagan.