How to Reduce Interpersonal Conflict During Difficult Times
–Use this model to build a collaborative workplace + reduce conflict
(Estimated reading time = 4 minutes)
Given these challenging times, we are launching a mini-series on handling difficult communication scenarios in the workplace.
In this first article, we will look at interpersonal conflict and specifically – speaking up & disagreeing with your boss or colleagues.
Imagine you are in a meeting or conference call and a peer interrupts and challenges you. How would you handle being interrupted? Or in another situation your boss has a viewpoint which is completely different from yours. Would you openly disagree with your manager’s opinion?
Typically, in threatening situations, an amygdala hijack takes place and we end up turning to two different default modes;
1. Flight mode
This is the play it safe option. You retreat, back down and don’t say anything
2. Fight mode
You tilt too far to defend your position and argue your case
Unsurprisingly, both of these above directions are ill-advisable. By not speaking up, your manager does not receive important information that you know which he/she does not know. Effectively you may end up harming the very people you want to help.
On the other hand, over-defending your position can stir up conflict with your team members and stakeholders.
The ideal strategy then to get noticed in your office and build a strong collaborative workplace which is very much needed given today’s uncertainties, lies somewhere in between these two modes.
P.A.C.E is an easy to remember acronym, which will help you stop and think about the viewpoint of the person you are communicating with before your jump back in with yours.
What is P.A.C.E? What does it stand for?
The pause phase will counter your natural “fight mode” temptation. Pausing (counting to 10 seconds) will allow you to go from a reactive to reflective brain state. In those 10 seconds try to think about;
1. Timing – Get a good sense or feel for the situation you are in. Is the timing right to counter your boss or peer? Is a private 1-1 discussion more suitable?
2. Frequency – When was the last time you countered my boss? Most bosses will appreciate your feedback and candidness but if you are disagreeing regularly then perhaps you need to step back and re-appraise.
A.. Ask questions (to understand the other person’s perspective)
In this second phase, stay away from personal attacks and toxic words. Words to avoid include “You” “wrong” and “No”. Your aim is to respond rather than react.
Ask your boss/peer to provide more examples or go into more detail so you really go deep into understanding their viewpoint.
Moving on to phase 3. After hearing the other person’s perspective, have you changed your opinion/mind? Remember that showing a willingness to listen, evaluate and change your opinion can be a strength of critical thinking and strong leadership.
E.. Engage or….in other words, respond.
If you still disagree then in this final stage, you could say, “I think we may have different views on this. Can I tell you how I see it?”
In this engage stage, your response should demonstrate how it aligns with other group goals. Remember the interaction is more likely to be productive if you focus energy on how the situation can be resolved rather than who is right or wrong. Stick to the facts and try to take emotion out.
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