Not all conflict is bad. When the disagreement is about things, processes, or tasks, getting into it can be quite productive. But when it becomes a personal issue with another person, it can damage your working relationship and your career.
Whenever you experience a relationship conflict, start to complain about something or someone, or decide that your boss is incompetent, I firmly believe that you first have to ask yourself how you contribute to the situation (and remedy that) before expecting it to improve.
Even if the other party is “wrong” and you are “right” (though this is less often the case that we like to think!), your actions impact the situation… for better or for worse. For the most productive outcome, try going through the following steps before resorting to negative coping strategies:
1. Find the Positive
When seething with hate or anger, it is much more likely we will push buttons, cross the line, or otherwise exercise poor judgment. Get control over your emotions by thinking of good things this person has done in the past, considering why you want to maintain a good relationship in the future, and (cliché as it sounds) finding the bright side of the situation.
2. Stop Enabling
Many times we find ourselves in the midst of a conflict when we dislike the way another person has behaved habitually. But relationships are dynamic—we behave differently when interacting with different people. To break a cycle of ineffective interactions, find a way to do things a little differently next time from your side of the relationship.
3. Shift Your Perspective
Step outside of your head and look at the situation from their perspective, from your wife’s perspective, from your boss’s perspective, from your son’s perspective, and from your best friend’s perspective. Look at things from a diverse point of view, focusing on the point of view of people whom you respect. How would each of them think about the problem you are experiencing? Thinking creatively should open up options, which will improve your chances of making a good decision.
4. Prepare for a Conversation
Write a script: plan to describe the situation and describe the impact it had on you. Ask about intentions—never assume mal intent. Prepare what your limits and allowances are in advance. Find a way to stay calm, and practice communicating your message in a non-threatening, and non-defensive manner. How you present yourself during the first sentence or two will determine what type of conversation it is going to be.
5. Be Direct
Address the actual concern you have at its root cause. Be explicit in what you say; don’t talk in a circle and don’t force the person to make even small leaps in logic. To avoid a situation where emotions escalate, act with intention, focus on your predetermined purpose, and do not react. You can be as direct as you need if you are able to demonstrate caring and empathy.
6. Work Together
Just because you said it, and they heard it, don’t automatically assume your message has been interpreted the way you intended. Have a deep conversation about intentions, mistakes, behaviors, and consequences to ensure mutual understanding. Be open to the possibility that they have a problem with you and you may need to make some changes as well. Then, take the next step—work toward an agreement on what both of you can do differently in the future.