Conflict is inevitable in the workplace
When you work with people, you have to learn to handle disagreement and confrontation while maintaining your cool. During conflict, the words you choose make the difference between finding a peaceful resolution or making the problem worse.
Saying the wrong thing is easy when you’re upset. First, there’s your own discomfort about dealing with your negative feelings. Many people don’t know how to process anger and resentment effectively, which means you stumble over what you want to say. When emotions run high, it’s often because the stakes are high.
Another reason people say the wrong thing during conflict is because they forget to understand what’s really happening. You may be defensive or blame the other person, which is a normal feeling, but it doesn’t serve to resolve the conflict. Don’t try and build your case for why you’re right, but focus on the resolution. In addition, what you say may not interpreted as how you meant it. People hear your words through the filters of their own experiences, and they may notice the nuances or inflections in your voice that might change the message.
Try this when you’re in a difficult confrontation
When you’re in a situation where words can be misinterpreted, you need to be cautious about how you proceed. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it can defuse the conflict when you take another approach before opening your mouth. Try these methods when you’re in a difficult confrontation.
- Listen. Do not talk while the other person expresses their own frustration. Also, don’t try to think about your own position during this time. Make sure to really listen to them. (Hey, I said it wasn’t going to be easy.) Avoid trying to assign feelings or blame while they’re talking. Just listen.
- Get information by asking questions. Clarify their position. Learn more about why they feel upset, so that you can get to the root of the problem. Knowledge is power.
- Paraphrase their position back to them. “I understand that you’re upset because….” “Did I hear this right?” or “Let me make sure I understand.”
- Own up to your own part. Begin your sentences with “I” so that you present your own perspective and don’t try to put words in the other person’s mouth. “I’m uncomfortable right now” sounds less threatening than “you make me uncomfortable.” Before you speak, notice what word you’re using to start your statement.
Of course, every situation is different. Dealing with your angry boss is much different than handling an angry customer. Don’t forget to consider your relationship and any cultural context that could be important. You can learn to do better when you’re in conflict. Think before you speak to make sure that you choose your words carefully.