Conflicts can arise at any moment in our lives. Some we’ll be able to see coming and some we won’t. But we can all agree on one point: whenever conflicts arise, they’re usually not much fun.
In this column I’ll discuss a few simple things that you can do while you’re in the middle of a conflict, or even before it starts, that will save you the unnecessary grief.
The following advice may appear simple, but the skill will be in your ability to control the urge to argue or defend, and have the discipline to submit to what may be a foreign method of negotiation for you.
QUESTION: Probably the best place to start this series is with the most common tendency I notice in conflicts or arguments. This is an all-too-familiar situation where one or both parties try to force their opinion onto the other person. What is a more productive approach?
ANSWER: Try to make a point of understanding the needs and desires of the other person, first, before you ask them to understand you.
Instead of spending your time presenting your side of the story and the perfect logic behind your point of view, and why you think you’re right, it is best to take the time to find out how the other party views the problem or conflict.
Why is this important? Because one of the greatest needs a human being has is the need to be understood. If you make the effort to understand the other person, you are validating their feelings and opinions. This is a very respectful approach to problem solving.
When a person feels heard and understood, they feel better about themselves and as a result, they’ll feel better about you. They are also more apt to drop their defensiveness and open up to you. In an atmosphere of openness, respect, and mutual understanding, both parties are more likely to come up with a wise solution that improves their relationship and fairly addresses eachother’s needs and concerns, instead of only their own.
Here’s an example of how I was able to use this approach myself: I recently visited a restaurant in China’s Shanghai business district and ordered dinner. Halfway through my meal, I smelled this awful smell coming from the kitchen and my eyes started to water uncontrollably. Seeing that it was near impossible for me to enjoy my meal, I approached the manager to ask for a refund.
He stared at me with a blank look on his face and replied: “Sir, I just can’t do that.” My head filled with thoughts of how unfair and unreasonable this man was being and that under the circumstances, I was perfectly justified in asking for a refund.
Resisting the urge to launch into my side of the story, I lowered my voice and asked: “Look, I know you must have a good reason to refuse my request, but I cannot understand why, so can you please tell me what it is?”
He replied: “I’d love to give you a refund sir, but this is my first day working as a night manager and if the owner knew that a fire extinguisher accidentally went off in the kitchen, while I was on duty, and that I had to refund a customer’s money, I would be fired. Is it OK if I issue you a credit for the meal we served you tonight and offer you a complimentary dessert and drink when you return?”
Of course I agreed. Win win.
If you have any feedback, questions, or interesting conflict resolution stories that you would like to share with our readers, please email email@example.com.