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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

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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