Conflicts are an unavoidable human phenomenon. They are bound to arise from time to time in our everyday life situations, be it at workplace, in business, or with strangers, friends or family. In fact, conflicts are something that leaders might have to deal with on a fairly regular basis. It also seems quite natural that a conflict would come up in situations where people feel passionately about what they do or feel strongly about what they feel or want to communicate.
When people interact with each other, there is an eventual certainty that at some point in time, different perspectives, ideas, preferences, likes and dislikes will lead to some level of disagreements.
Avoidance is just one way some people deal with conflict situations. But avoiding or ignoring can make things worse instead of confronting the problem. Shying away only results in creating a stressful environment, leads to resentment, and disrupts personal relationships. Professionally, this may cause work /project delays, where you incur direct and indirect costs in terms of time, money and workforce. The conflict isn’t the problem, but how effectively one can manage or resolve. To survive and thrive in any relationship, one must know how to manage and resolve conflicts effectively.
Conflicts are neither constructive nor disruptive but the ways these are handled make them either positive or negative — Abdul GhaffarTweet
Communication barriers in conflict resolution
There are different causes for conflicts to occur. While some are characterised by anger, frustration and other negative feelings, some arise due to conflict of interest. Other causes include conflict in values or due to competition for common but scarce resources or disputes over roles. However, communication plays an important role. Conflict occurs when there is a breakdown in communication.
To address the issues behind any given conflict, it is essential to ensure that everyone communicates effectively. However, communication if used poorly, can create many barriers into our conversations that inhibits our ability to connect with others effectively. Here are some communication barriers most of us commonly run into.
- Being judgmental. We tend to judge the merits of what the other person is saying in terms of good-bad, right-wrong, like or dislike or preferences. As a result, we jump to conclusions particularly if the conflict is about us or personal.
- Criticising/Using labels/Stereotyping. Making a negative evaluation of another person’s actions or attitudes. For instance, saying things like “you always mess up things.. nobody else to blame but yourself..” Using labels or stereotyping can distort what we are listening.
- Assuming. One of the most common communication barrier in conflict resolution is the assumption that other people are viewing the world in the same way that we do. All people have unique understanding and set of expectations with regards to how they should behave and communicate. Assuming that you know the real reason or truth behind a person’s actions or behaviour blocks resolving.
- Ordering or commanding another person to do what you want them to do. Angry and resentful reactions and specific ways of verbalising can further trigger feelings of conflict, anger or frustration on another. Attempting to control another’s actions by warning or trying to moralise by telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.
- Not listening. Mentally rehearsing what you want to say instead of listening. This does not allow the other to be heard and limiting our ability to understand the other’s perspective.
- Getting defensive. It is a natural reaction for all of us to get defensive in the face of the conflict. But this really closes the door to the open two-way communication.
- Avoiding another person’s concerns or dismissing the topic as unimportant. The inability to recognise and respond to the things that matter to the other person. Saying things like, “ you are making too big of a deal out of things” and diverting or pushing other person’s problems aside.
- Invalidating others’ emotions by trying to convince them that they are wrong and we are right with a logical argument.
So, how to communicate without conflict
Primary challenge of conflict resolution is to adopt an effective communication approach. The first step towards this is to overcome these barriers in order to mend broken communication, false assumptions and negative emotions all of which can further increase the conflict. One of the benefits of effective communication is that it reduces the anxiety around the conflict in personal or work life. With proper communication tools one can always transform conflict into productive conversations to build trusting relationships. Here are some strategies to communicate without conflict.
Take time to respond.
Though it might be your natural reaction to want to resolve things on the spot, sometimes taking time is the best thing you can do when managing a situation. There are always times when things intensify, people raise their voices or become aggressive and lose their control.
One cannot resolve a conflict when tensions are running high. Call for a time out and let everyone cool off a bit. Stop and think about what you are about to say or do. When we pause and take time out, we can develop our ability to remain engaged and connected with present moment rather than letting your emotions control you. Things get resolved when you remove fickle emotions from the equation. This helps you include facts without exaggeration or bias.
Listen to understand.
If you want resolve conflict situations, you must become active in your listening. We frequently interrupt people rather than focusing on what the other is saying. There is no point in saying something if you aren’t going to hear the response. Rather than tuning out other person’s reasoning thinking ahead about your response, listen intently to gain better understanding. Repeat back to them when you understand what they are saying to signal the other that you are not only listening but in fact understanding.
Be inquisitive and asking open questions not only helps you learn the “what” but also to know the “why” and “how.”Next time you have a discussion with someone and you catch yourself thinking ahead of them, take a minute to stop your thinking and redirect your focus back onto what they’re saying once again.
Read more: How to be an effective listener
Pay attention to core issues.
In response to a conflict situation, many use small talk tactics to open up communication that serves only in limited way. The core part of conflict resolution is to uncover core issues that people normally prefer to avoid. Sometimes those blocked negative emotions don’t let people to be open to free flowing conversations because of which misunderstandings, differences, and unmet needs continue to exist.
So, an effective approach is to let others know mistakes, problems, disagreements and express things that are not “okay” but needed. It is important to create space for each of you talk about what you are afraid to discuss. Set boundaries around what the purpose of your interactions are. Ask yourself, What are the core issues? What are your common needs and interests? What are you trying to avoid or achieve together?
Respect others’ opinions.
We often create conflict by simply resisting another person’s opinion by being indifferent or avoiding. Communicating to resolve is far less about being “right” and more about being honest and respectful. Belittling or trivialising other’s opinion only increases the conflict. Rather look for commonality and find something to appreciate, reflect or acknowledge. You can respect someone’s opinion without having to agree with it. For instance, “that’s true and there’s something else to it” or Saying on the lines of “I really appreciate what you are saying and here is another way to view the situation ….” or “you might feel differently if you were to hear my side of it” can help redirect the conversation towards resolving.
Cultivate genuine empathy.
Some of us just naturally find it hard to empathise with others, particularly when you feel that the other person is in the wrong. However, empathy goes a long way in communicating without conflict. Whether or not you think the other person’s feelings are justified, they are real to that person. Instead of resisting, find an appreciation for their perspective. Trying to understand your opponent’s point of view might give you valuable insight into how best to resolve the problem. It involves translating your understanding of the other’s experiences, behaviours and feelings although you may not agree with their choices or opinions.
Avoid the Blame Game.
When dealing with conflict, it’s essential to remember that you are frustrated at the issue at hand and not at the person involved. When venting your frustration, focus your irritation towards the problem, not the person. Throwing around blame will only make conflict worse. For instance, instead of telling someone that, “You didn’t listen to me and deliberately ignored what I said”, you can rephrase and say, “The way our discussion went made me feel like my opinion didn’t matter to you.” Avoid placing blame and the conflict will get resolved that much more quickly.
It is important to remember that what you are going to say also elicits a response from the person you are speaking to. And since keeping things as positive as possible can be difficult as you would like to address areas that are important to you. So, you have to be prepared to take responsibility for the consequences when engaging in a conversation. The key is to stay flexible in your approach and calibrate who you are dealing with.
Check how flexible or rigid you are in your position or belief. Even if you believe that your opinion is the correct one, it is important to learn to respect what others are saying. The more accepting, tolerant and understanding you become towards other perspectives and possibilities, the more will be your perceptional flexibility.
Stick to the facts, not emotions.
The easiest mistake you can make in a conflict situation is to miss on facts and give into opinions derived from your emotions. The key again here is not to mistake your emotions as facts. When the other person disputes some of your facts, don’t get defensive. Listen and be willing to accept that you may be wrong about one or more facts. Resist the temptation to deny, avoid or resist. Instead find ways to emotionally regulate yourself and take responsibility for your feelings for more productive conversations.
Do you communicate to avoid or resolve conflicts in your personal or work life?
How might your communication be hindering you from resolving conflicts?
Do you practice being “right” over ”effective” in conflict situations?
In what ways do you stereotype, judge or label people in a conversation?
How empathic are you towards others even when you don’t agree with their choice of opinion?
Do you listen to understand or to respond during an heated conversation?
In a conflict, Do you choose winning the argument at all costs over successfully resolving it?
How important is other’s perspective in a conflict?
Often the only tool for resolving a conflict is our ability to communicate without resistance. The ability to hear clearly what people involved are saying, in a way that makes them feel heard and to communicate clearly what you want to say, in a way that will allow the other to hear and understand is crucial in conflict resolution. When you consider the value in being effective rather than right, you shift from an approach that is defensive to a more curious and considerate mindset.
Having effective ways to communicate eases tension and anxiety around conflicts. It is important to remember that not every conflict will have a solution where everyone wins. However, having effective communication tools can help you navigate, manage and resolve the issues in a way where everyone’s point of view is heard and understood.