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Published on June 25, 2018

Conflict Management: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities

Conflict Management: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities

There’s a lot out there written on conflict from how to ask what you really want and how to understand what the other side really wants.

But what I have seen from those materials is that most of them have been written in bubbles using armchair philosophy with almost zero empirical evidence and applicability in real life.

It’s like the case with the orange. One side just wants the orange bark while the other side wants the inside of the orange. You solve the case by giving them both what they need and there you have it, you’ve solved the conflict.

In real life, both sides want the entire orange and they are not willing to budge a centimeter until they get it and that’s why I’m making this guide. No more armchair philosophy, no more talking in the bubble. We are entering the real world and this is how you will solve the conflicts and get what you want.

Chunking down conflict into primordial pieces

Conflict has multiple different layers which all play different roles and parts. And the biggest gain for you is going to be figuring out where exactly is your conflict playing out.

You will use a different method for different situations so this guide will serve as an arsenal of weapons for conflicts and you will just pick the right tool for the right situation. It’s like having a toolbox with a hammer, a drill, a screwdriver, pliers and many more inside and you use the one which you need at that moment. And we’ll call that our Conflict Toolbox.

With that in mind, let’s start with:

1. Level of conflict (emotional – rational)

Level of conflict helps us perceive where exactly is the conflict playing out. The two possible options are emotional and rational.

Emotional is the most common one. In fact, a rational conflict is so rare that I’ve seen it happen only once in my entire life. Nevertheless it happens and it’s going into our Conflict Toolbox.

Emotional conflicts

Emotional conflict is a conflict based on emotions and for it to be solved, it needs to have an emotional solution, not a logical one.

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The example is when your wife gets upset that you came 10 minutes late for dinner and you bought her diamond earrings to fix that. But they don’t have that effect because the level of conflict is played in the emotional part, where your wife wants you to care and make an effort. So you will only fix it by displaying care and effort, not by trying to buy your way back.

A logical solution to an emotional problem is destined to fail.

One more example is your boss who doesn’t want to give you that promotion. He is worried that you might take his job further up if you keep this pace. He is frightened and scared and uses defensive emotional mechanisms to cover it up.

No amount of justifying to him is going to fix that because you are appealing to his logic. You need to solve his emotional pain – being scared and frightened of you- and tackle that problem with an emotional response that will calm those fears down.

Instead of telling him that you won’t take his job, prove it to him by displaying family as your number one priority in life and proving to him that a higher end job would just take away precious time from them.

Show him that you have interesting hobbies and that you are not simply “John from work” but “John the mountain-climber” or “John the National Dart Champion.” Make an emotional bond which will alleviate the concerns from the other side. Then, and only then, will you be able to solve that conflict.

Remember that when dealing with people, you are dealing with emotional beings who only use logic to justify their behaviors. But in rare cases, the conflict can be rational.

Rational conflicts

Rational conflicts happen when the logic of one proposal meets head with the logic of another proposal. It’s one of the least studied areas of life because there is not a lot of people having conflict only on a pure logical base. Most of us are victims of our narrow understanding of the world cognitive biases and beliefs to be able to put them aside and have a conflict based only on logic.

I’ve even used a cognitive bias myself when describing rational conflict by stating that “it’s so rare that I’ve seen it only once in my life” which is an anecdotal evidence and falls under the information bias.

But if you ever find yourself in a strictly rational conflict, the best way to solve it is by finding a unique angle (perspective) which will make your agenda stick but will also help the other side.

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Conflicts are everywhere and if we don’t decide which fights to take, we will lose our minds. With that, we are coming to the second layer of conflict.

2. Scale of conflict (short-term or long-term)

The scale of conflict is really important. Some short-term conflicts can be left unattended but the long-term ones should be addressed as soon as possible and here is an example:

You’re working with a fellow colleague on a project and he forgets to add a really important piece of code in the program. Because of this, you just gained another week of work on your back.

If this is a one-time thing and he made a mistake because of some other problems currently happening in his life, then it’s okay. It happens to everyone.

But if this shows to you that your colleague is sloppy and that he isn’t detail-oriented, then you know that similar problems will keep popping up in the future and this should be addressed as soon as possible.

The most important things here is to assess if this behavior will repeat itself in the future or if this is a one-time mistake. If it’s a one-time mistake, you don’t need to make a huge deal about it (even though you need to inform your colleague about the problem) but if it’s going to happen again and again, you need to deal with the problem asap.

As Tony Robbins said “Kill the monster while it’s small” which means that you need to address the problem before it gets out of control.

3. Proximity of conflict (four decisions)

This is my favorite part of conflict management. The proximity of conflict can be defined as the importance of the relationship you have with the person with whom you’re having conflict.

Depending on the relationship, these are the four decisions you can take:[1]

  • Exit
  • Neglect
  • Persevere
  • Voice

Exit

Exit is all about removing yourself from the situation. This is something I do in 99% of the situations because I only deeply care about 1% of the things in this world. Everything else is really not worth arguing for.

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With Exit, you simply move physically from that environment; or if it’s digital, just turn off the website and that’s it. It takes a little bit of time for you to get used to this but when you do, it will be one of the most liberating experiences of your life. Playing “I’m walking away” by Craig David in your head helps a lot!

Neglect

Neglect happens when you think you can’t change the situation so you just leave it like that, lowering any effort from your side to a minimum. This is mostly the case with a thick family member who is bullying everyone else but nobody can do anything about that. So you just accept that this is one war you won’t win and leave it be.

You might think that neglect is quite rare… until you remember your teenage years where you had almost no power in your household. You had to do chores that you absolutely hated so you tried to do them with the least possible effort. I know it was vacuuming the house for me – it was one of the worst things ever and I hated it from the bottom of my heart.

Neglect is everywhere around you, from the people at DMV who are half-asleep doing their job to the 17-year-old kid serving you fries at McDonald’s.

Persevere

Persevere means that you don’t have enough influence to change the current situation but you are building it for the future. This is the case of idiosyncrasy at work- what can you wear?

If you are a professor for 6 months and want to wear khaki shorts to work, it will never happen. But if you work there for a couple of years, build your reputation and influence and then wear khaki sorts to work, nobody will say anything to you.

Voice

Voice is a direct confrontation of the problem head-on. This is where you stop your tracks and have the argument/conflict at that moment.

Voice doesn’t happen that often because people are in different situations and using Voice means that you are tackling the problem (and the other person) head on. And for this, you need to ready for the consequences. If it’s your boss you are confronting on a meeting, think about the position you are currently in and if Voice is actually the best option to go for.

We have covered the layers of conflict and now it’s time to see what our Conflict Toolbox says about it.

4. How to gain the upper hand

Conflicts pave the way to opportunities and if we use the right tool from our Conflict Toolbox, we will gain the upper hand in it.

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A master of this was Dale Carnegie and he explained all of it in his best-selling classical book How to Win Friend & Influence PeopleDale’s philosophy can be summarized in to playing the upper hand by actually letting the other person be right, appear great (especially in public) and letting them know that they sit on top of you.

Stroking the other person’s ego will help you get what you want because you are making the other side appear so great that they show you “some mercy” by actually giving you what you want. But the catch here is that you’ve already done the hard work by yielding so that they have no other option than to give you what you want – because doing that will help them look even better in the eyes of other people.

Not only will they appear smart, brilliant and on top of all right – but they will also show grace, mercy, thoughtfulness and consideration.

Just think about it – how many times have you snubbed at the person who was condescending you in any manner. I know I did because nobody likes to be condescended but a lot of us if we have the opportunity, love to “teach someone else a lesson” or “show them a thing or two.”

We are social creatures who have dominance hierarchies and it’s inevitable that ego will come into play. It’s in our best interest to have it as a great servant instead of a horrible master.

So the next time you’re in a conflict, set your ego aside and see how you can actually make the other person look better – it will help your cause.

Pack your Conflict Toolbox and off you go

We’ve dissected conflict into its primordial layers and found out that conflict can:

  • Have an emotional or rational level
  • Be on a short-term or long-term scale
  • Have four different relationships regarding proximity: Exit, Neglect, Persevere, Voice

We have talked about how to actually deal with conflict and how you can turn it into an opportunity for yourself. Here, we talked about the age-old wisdom of Dale Carnegie and his message of stroking the ego from the classic “How To Win Friend & Influence People.”

And now you have your Conflict Toolbox packed with different tools which you can use in different situations.

Off you go into the world of conflict or better said – the world of opportunities.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

Conflict Management: How to Turn Any Conflicts into Opportunities Goals vs Objectives: How to Use Them to Become Successful in Life? Why Being a People Pleaser is Terrible for Your Productivity

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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