How to handle conflicts productively

“The purpose of disagreement is not victory or defeat, it is progress.” – Teal Swan

Disagreements and differences are inevitable and they often spark a conflict. We all have different opinions and ideas that often lead to serious disagreements in a discussion be it in work places or in our personal lives. You won’t always agree with the beliefs or ideas of others and everyone won’t always agree with yours. We tend to and want to take sides. We all are different in the way we view the world which is influenced by our values, upbringing and background.

Sometimes these disagreements and differences impact people’s behaviour towards each other and ends up in a conflict. For instance, in work places conflict might arise due to competition or due to value clashes and personality differences, or due to perceived unfair treatment. Conflict can cause lot of stress and strain relationships both personally and professionally if not managed well. If left unresolved, it can have various negative effects such as low morale, choosing sides, quitting and violent outbursts. But it also serves as an opportunity for our transformation and personal growth if handled constructively.

Understanding conflict

Conflict by definition, is a disagreement or difference of perspective among individual or groups characterised by bitterness, tension, emotion, and hostility. But voicing your differences is important for creativity and innovation. Challenging status quo, challenging what is acceptable, and challenging the norms usually leads to innovations. New ideas emerge in work places when there are different opinions.

However, care should be taken for those differences should not move further down as major conflict. What initially starts as discomfort or differences between individuals or teams in discussions or conversations, slowly simmers on, if not managed well, creates perceptions, prejudice, wrong intentions and interpretation in the minds of one of the sides or both sides at times. This further not resolved, turns into a conflict.

How differences become Conflicts?

Differences as and when they are voiced, if not agreed upon, flares the focus away from the issue to direct itself on the people who are creating opinions. This leaves a bad taste in the other side and things begin to get misunderstood.

Misunderstandings if not resolved at this stage, leads to feelings of distrust, disagreement, lack of communication, blame game etc., and creates a stressful environment of tension.

Tension gets build between both sides and thus further leads to louder gossips, back-biting, strong opinions against people, and creates strong divisions. This turns into a conflict.

Conflict further strains trust, relationship, conversation, working together. Individuals at this stage attach their egos to their already diverging opinions and if that opinion is not accepted, they feel that this means a loss of credibility or loss or rejection and the whole situation may turn destructive.

Some more reasons for conflict

• Unwillingness to resolve the disagreements.

• Avoidance of conflict because of dislike of differences or contradiction or fear of disagreement.

• Being close-minded, not open to contrary views.

• One-mindedness prevents us from seeing what is true of value.

• Goal of defeating or destroying the other.

• Receiving only positive support and reinforcement of our beliefs or engaging only with like-minded.

• Inability to tolerate the ambiguity, ambivalence or tension that can arise in a disagreement.

Dealing with disagreements constructively will help you to recognise that the opposite, contradictory or ‘other’ point of view may have some validity. You should make an attempt to identify and understand disagreements and should be able to resolve them be it personal or professional lest they create stressed environment and might hinder your productivity.

The problem is that while conflict provides opportunity for change, we often miss it because conflict always touches our deepest emotions. So, we tend to become defensive in such situations. Our reaction to conflict makes us miss the opportunity which it provides for a change.

“A sense and normal society is one in which people habitually disagree.” – Carl Jung.

How to manage conflicts constructively

We know that conflict is a natural phenomenon because of clashes of thoughts and ideas. If managed well, conflict can be a constructive tool and can emerge as more meaningful and can be helpful to the people involved to understand the situation and to better themselves. By embracing it when it naturally comes our way helps a variety of opinions to surface which can be more useful and innovative. Here are certain ways to manage when disagreements or differences turn into conflicts.

Negotiate

Try and establish a dialogue for negotiation. When facing conflict you can become hostage to your inner fears and doubts, but it doesn’t have to be so. With self-awareness, you can overcome your doubts and change the way you perceive and behave in a situation. Try to see that as an opportunity, not as an obstacle. Talking, establishing a dialogue with the person you are in conflict and negotiating creates genuine and productive transactions focused on the common goal. Talk and listen without hostility or aggression. To resolve, it is more productive to persuade than to force.

Know the root cause

Be aware of the root cause of the disagreement. It is important to not only understand your own perception, but also you need to be aware of the other side’s. Often a disagreement starts from people having different set of goals, interests, or values. To address the conflict you are facing, ask yourself whether it stems from an interest or a need. An interest is more superficial and a need runs deeper like identity, security or respect. Most of the times, the behaviour of people involved in conflict is driven by needs. When you really know the root cause of the conflict, you can respond to that—in order to resolve the conflict.

Establish ways of working

Encourage open differences. This makes everyone aware of how to put up with differences respectfully. Understanding the others mindset helps you to resolve the conflict. If one wants to win, and if that one person is willing to make the other person lose, then the conflict remains unresolved. Leverage your different view points unconditionally and in positive regard. Try to find a common ground for mutual respect and cooperation. Collaborate with the other side and work towards a true solution to the conflict.

Develop willingness to resolve

The unwillingness to resolve does not help you to manage conflict effectively. You need to figure out whether you are stuck up, or is your ego attached to the unwillingness to resolve? Practice being empathetic in those situations. Be kind to the other side and make the right concessions. This gives an opportunity for the other side to respond accordingly. Develop the ability to listen and then respond. And once a concession has been made by the other side as well, reciprocate by moving the dialogue forward.

Focus on the combined desired outcome

When the conflict reaches a crisis stage, it is better to focus on the desired outcome of the resolution. It is better to reveal the big picture that you need to focus on. If the individuals involved in the conflict have different outcomes in mind, first inclining these outcome into one common outcome is important for the conflict to be resolved. If you are not able to arrive at common grounds because of your past misunderstandings, it is better to pare the past and move forward.

Finally, Maintain a positive relationship by respecting and staying aware of other person’s perspective. Emotions such as anger and frustration disrupts thoughtful actions. Even when you don’t agree with a specific point or a behaviour, demonstrate your acceptance of them as a person. Try to separate the person from the problem and focus on real issues and common goals. View it as an opportunity to work through the conflict for a mutually beneficial outcome.

Conclusion

Disagreements and diverse points of view often stimulate creativity and bring about change. But if you find these differences ending up in conflicts, embrace them and resolve them effectively by using above approaches and remember to,

Communicate to the other person your own perspective, and reflect back your understanding of theirs.

Help other side to maintain feelings of acceptance, value and worth through conflict, and help them to stay focused on the goal of a mutually acceptable outcome.

Consider big picture and think beyond current conflict to the long-term relationships and goals involved. A broader perspective may reveal new options and make other issues seem less important.

Focus on the problem and not the person and approach the conflict without taking it, or making it personal.

“The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.” – Tom Crum

Deal with your criticism constructively

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill

Criticism and confrontational situations arise everyday. You may not be able to avoid other people’s criticism of you, but you always have a choice as how to respond to those. There are times when you feel that almost everyone is against you and our balance of temper depends upon others, just as others depend on us. Such situations cause uneasiness. This is natural because of our expectations and we feel hurt and start brooding about the criticism we face. Criticism if not handled properly can really create stressful and unpleasant working environment. Being criticised causes most of us to feel poorly about ourselves and can lower our self-esteem and productivity as we devote more time and energy dealing with it and are less focused on important things.

According to science, there are two portions of our brain that dictate how we emotionally process and respond to criticism. The amygdala plays a huge role in our fight or flight response, which is why negative reviews or feedback from others make us feel truly threatening and create a negative bias. Unpleasant remarks and experiences stick with us so much more than the pleasant ones.

When faced with criticism, not everyone deals with it in the same way. There isn’t one size fits all responses. Some instantly know its not personal, some get defensive, some may feel completely crushed by even the most minimal feedback. Here are some ways people deal with the negative feedback.

• Some people seem to accept criticism rather well on the surface while mentally they put themselves down by being overly hard on themselves.

• Some of them take negative feedback very personally. However, they deflect the blame back on others by challenging or arguing against as a means of convincing themselves that criticism is unjust.

• Some feel put down by the negative remarks, but they aren’t beating themselves up and aren’t deflecting blame onto the person giving them. They simply want to know the reason and what they could do to change critic’s mind.

• Some choose to defend themselves against criticism and exhibit a defensive reaction to negative feedback. However, they don’t argue and they likely think that their critic is somewhat misguided and are fine to leave it at that.

• Some get sensitive to negative feedback and tend to turn that into anger or feelings of inadequacy and react in way to quickly seek validation from others.

Feeling bad about being criticised is totally natural and unavoidable, but allowing it to effect our productivity and happiness can be often detrimental. We are not well equipped to handle negative feedback positively and fail often to deal with it smartly. However, criticism, if you learn to face it openly and learn to handle it in a more positive and constructive manner, can be a pathway to your progress and improvement. Managing negative feedback constructively creates better interpersonal relationships and can grow your leadership effectiveness. Here are certain ways to turn criticism into constructive tool for your individual success and not to let it affect you negatively.

Do not ‘defend’ yourself

When we are criticised, our most common instinct is to defend ourselves. Resist proving yourself right every time and focus on what is going on. Address it with curiosity and not as accusation. Even when you disagree, listen to what the other person has to say and think it over. Resist the urge to focus on the minor elements of what’s being said and instead focus on the major implication of the criticism. There may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the issue in larger perspective. Getting defensive takes away your emotional control and limits your ability to respond thoughtfully.

Know your ‘negative self’

Critical comments about yourself can activate a deeply held negative beliefs and your insecurities. You tend to overreact because it activates your negative belief as you are sensitive to that particular issue. Criticism may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity. By becoming familiar about them can help you overcome these feelings that gets triggered.

Don’t take it personally

Many of us take criticism more personally than we should. It is essential to separate criticism from your sense of self. Learn not to view it as about who you are as a person , but rather as feedback about an individual action or a particular situation. Always learn to look at the context from an objective stand. The disagreements you have with others is often due to different views and perceptions. If you can learn to view it as feedback about something you did and not about who you are, you will be able to take it less personally and can respond accordingly.

Go to the ‘source’

Identify the source that triggered the criticism or try to have a conversation with the person criticising. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to criticising others unreasonably, or being egotistical, or has unpredictable behavioural-pattern, then you need not take their feedback seriously. However, if the person delivering criticism is stable, supportive and trustworthy, take stock of the criticism and explore it further. Try to have a conversation and get to the bottom of it. Getting to the source keeps you in proper perspective.

Respond calmly

It can be very unpleasant when someone finds fault with you. But If you react emotionally to what’s been said, or if you go into fight mode, it only takes you out of your rational behaviour and it is better not to respond. Take a step back emotionally so that you can respond calmly and use simple response to acknowledge that you have heard their opinion. Take few minutes out and breathe in a relaxed way to bring down your stress response so that you can respond calmly.

Look for the ‘positive’

Always look at what you can learn from the situation. If there’s anything the situation is helping you to learn or is it in anyway serving as an opportunity for your growth. Sometimes it might help you to learn the need to be more resilient or patient or to learn to stand up for yourself or to take responsibility for the behaviours you have that invited criticism from others. Be focused on the positive aspects of the situation.

Strengthen your positive ‘self’

Agree with any valid part of the criticism that is true. If there are elements that are not true, state your differences. If you are brought down by someone else’s unjust criticism, consider working on your self-esteem, try to reduce your interaction with someone who regularly criticises you. If it is someone whom you can’t avoid, try being more matter of fact with them, or, ideally, withdraw your need for their approval or validation.

Say ‘No’ to negative self-talk

Negative self-talk can be damaging to your self-esteem and can become a biggest bully. Don’t let your inner critic demean you and lower your self-worth. Ask yourself the question: would you put up with a person saying negative things about you? If you wouldn’t tolerate that tone from someone, then why put up with from yourself? Get positive perspective of you as a person or your achievements and focus on them when your inner critic tries to break you down.

Don’t over-communicate

If you get into disagreements or confrontational situations, don’t engage in too much talk or debate. Try to exit from the situation with ease. Know when to quit the conversation. Adopt strategies that regulate your emotions before negativity takes you over. Develop an ability to put away the unpleasant experience and get on with new approach, in other words, have the ability to bounce back and explain your stance or take on that particular issue later.

Straighten your own attitudes

When you feel or think that you are off the target with someone or you think that he or she disapproves of you, there may be nothing wrong with you. It could be the other person is simply drawing upon his or her own past experiences or even highly suspicious of others in his or her dealings with others. Understand person’s motivation for being unfairly critical. Is he stressed? Insecure? Unhappy to change?In such cases, attitude to your own self is important. If you feel someone’s criticism of you is unfair, don’t be afraid to say so. Be irrespective of others’ unjust criticism. Even though you’re the target, it is more often about them than you. Try to view it in broader perspective.

Ask open-ended questions

Asking open-ended questions to those who criticise you will not only make their feedback valuable, but also allows you to learn more about why they viewed the action or the situation the way they did. Asking open-ended questions like “Tell me more…,” “what is the impact of that?” Asking a series of ‘why?’ questions is the best way to know their perspective and makes you better equipped to handle the situation in future. You can facilitate a more open conversation with your critic and can end the conversation on good terms.

Finally, pay attention to the criticism you face. Take action in order to improve yourself if the criticism is because of your faults and weaknesses. View it as learning opportunity. Instead of feeling bad about your mistakes and any criticism that may have resulted from them, accept them and view them objectively. This way, you will be better prepared to deal with similar situations in the future.

Conclusion

The next time you come across criticism, remember what you learned and take a suitable approach, don’t let anger get in the way. Respond in cool, calm and reasonable manner. Trust your instinct, if its something worth fighting for. Be assertive and firm, but don’t be demanding or aggressive. If the criticism has resulted because of your mistakes, learn from them and move on.