This weekend I experienced a profound shift and it was as if there were a number of light bulbs going off as the “aha” moments flooded in. The first thing I wanted to do was to get this post up so that I could share my thinking with you. Things have been crystallising for me over the last year whilst I have been sharing tools on how to deal with conflict with nurses and midwives. In some ways the material I was working with just didn’t seem to go deep enough and I feel like I now have some of the missing pieces having started my ORSC training this weekend. So I have consolidated my thinking for you below.
Before you even sense a potential conflict, notice in your body how you see conflict. This kind of awareness will give you many clues to how well you manage it. If you are not sure then start by doing the following exercise:
- Say to yourself or write down conflict is and then fill in the blank.
- What did you find? How often was your internal response something like debilitating, draining or even to be avoided at all costs?
- To what extent did you come up with neutral thoughts like a difference of opinion or voicing distinct perspectives?
- Did you have any thoughts like conflict is a great way to clear the air?
This last response may feel unlikely but often if you can remain neutral or even positive in a difficult situation, you are likely to be more skilful in the way you handle the challenge. I used to actively relish confrontation because it was an opportunity to be very straight and direct with others. As I have grown older, I have become more conscious that this can be quite a high risk strategy especially in the UK where directness is not always appreciated. These days my intention is to remain calm and not be triggered by what is happening in front of me AND that is easier said than done.
Self care is absolutely vital. So if you feel emotionally flooded then it is probably sensible to say to the other party that you are not in the right place to have the conversation and take yourself off until you are in a place where you can share calmly what is going on for you. Some may call this avoiding the issue but in fact it is a really mature way to approach situations when you feel strongly about what is happening and are finding it hard to practise emotional self-management.
Another entry point around conflict is to become super attuned to your own emotional state. As soon as you sense even a bit of discomfort or low level anxiety, check in with yourself and be curious about what is causing it. If you can catch yourself at this point you will be much better placed to handle the issue in a way that is effective.
An example of this for me recently was increased awareness about a business relationship in that I noticed that it wasn’t working for me. My first reaction was that the person was not delivering and that I would need to find a new person to do that work. Then I took a step back and reflected on the bigger picture.
I always like to have a personal relationship with those that work for me. Taking a moment to pause, I found some compassion for the individual and became conscious that they were going through a major transition personally and so probably needed some slack. At that point I picked up the phone and we talked.
The first thing I did was to voice what I thought was going on for them and to ask if they had any unmet needs that I could help with at this time. This meant that they were able to relax because they knew I appreciated them for who they were. We then had a frank discussion around my expectations and found a way forward. Even with that part of the conversation, I did not just state the facts, the impact it was having on me and what I wanted to happen next. I started by acknowledging them and who they are. Everyone needs to feel seen.
This whole process made me realise how much I liked working with this person because they are so direct and open in their communication style. We had another business call the following day and at the end of it, we had a further discussion. Previously they had said that they could not fit in a piece of work I had asked them to do. When I enquired further, we discovered it was because it felt too difficult to do alone. So I suggested that we could do it together and then we explored when we might be able to fit that in and came up with a workable solution. In other words, asking questions and being curious will give you much more to work with rather than making assumptions or even judgements based on your first impressions or even the initial response you receive.
Another of the key things that I have learnt is the value of communicating either face to face or over the phone. Don’t sort out challenging situations via email; it rarely works because it is so hard to really know the intention behind what someone has written. Something I learnt to my cost earlier this year when I was too slow to pick up the phone.
Finally when we look at relationships systematically there is one rule to hold on to and that is that everyone is partially right. Too often when triggered, you will look for ways to blame the other party or justify your own actions. If you can uphold the belief that there is some truth in every position, you will find it easier to discover a way through.
In my next post, I will start to explore what tends to happen in conflict and the best ways to resolve that. I would love to hear your thoughts on all this as helping people to get better results from their communication is at the heart of the work that I do. What are major sources of conflict in your life? How helpful are these ideas with that?