Written by Anne Warfield Tuesday, January 08 2013
In the Heat of the Moment
You are in the middle of a deep discussion about a project you are passionate about. During the discussion several people start pointing out the flaws in your ideas. Pretty soon you feel like you are sinking and, to your horror, you burst out in tears.
You and your boss go to a very important meeting. You know the business unit you are talking to is going to dislike what you have to say, as you will be putting a stop to their project. During the meeting, things get heated, and you find yourself suddenly saying things in a nasty way and becoming more and more rigid in your thinking.
Have you ever been in the above situations? Ever wished you knew just how to handle conflict so you are seen as poised, strategic and confident?
We act as though conflict is a bad thing. We are taught that we must resolve all conflict. The goal that is implied is peace – no disruptions.
I disagree. I think conflict is good, even necessary if you are to be innovative and creative. To be innovative and creative means you have to question all that is and try to create what doesn't exist. This means you will disrupt the lives of people that like to have things stay consistent without much change.
So, if you don't have any conflict, then most likely your team is filled with “yes people,” and you are not stretching your imaginations to the limit. Now having said that, I want to make sure we all have the same definition of conflict.
Conflict, to me, is about duality. It is about the differences between things that give us new insights and possibilities and what currently exists.
I believe conflict should be a building block, not a stumbling block. In this article I will share with you why most conflict is handled poorly, what you can do to handle it better, and how to stop the tears or tirades so you are successfully by using a brain-based methodology called Outcome Thinking®.
My “Aha” Moment
To go on this journey, let me take you back in time to when Outcome Thinking® got its start.
When I was in college I knew I was going to go on to law school. So, in my junior year when the businesses came to campus, I decided to interview with any company that was of interest to me, whether or not I was qualified for the job. Since I knew I was going to law school, I wasn’t concerned about getting hired.
As you can imagine, when I went to the interviews many of the interviewers were upset that I didn’t meet their stated criteria. I told them that I came with written and oral communication skills that most people don’t have and anything they wanted to teach me, they could, as my grades showed I was teachable. I also said that what we were really there to examine is how I thought and whether they felt it would be of value to have me in front of their clients – after hearing me out, each interviewers invited me to sit down. Out of 10 interviews, eight would give me job offers.
That is when I started to realize the power is in the thinking and that, in turn, naturally drives the doing. I could have crumbled when faced with conflict in those interviews, but instead I used it as a differentiator in the market. I realized that everyone could use this successful strategy if they knew how.
What You Believe About Conflict But Shouldn’t
Conflict can be wonderfully good, but unfortunately the majority of people handle conflict poorly. This stems from three fundamental beliefs that block you in handling conflict.
- In conflict , you must get the person to see and, best case scenario, agree with your side in order to resolve the conflict.
- You must get the person to understand where they are wrong, and you are right.
- All conflict needs to be resolved so that we are at peace as a team.
Taking these one at a time I will show you how these beliefs freeze your brain and block you from dealing effectively with conflict.
Belief #1: You need to get the person to see and agree with your side in order to resolve the conflict.
This belief causes you to do things that actually derail the conflict.
- This approach causes your brain to immediately move to making a laundry list of all the reasons they should agree with you. It is a faulty premise and leads your brain to defense thinking.
- As you list all your reasons, their brain moves immediately to defending their side and finding the holes in your argument.
- They may never be able to see or understand your side because they have not experienced it. Scientists say the Indians couldn't see the Mayflower ship as it approached because their brain couldn't even conceive of a ship that big. Therefore, the Pilgrims were able to land without the Indians being any the wiser. Trying to argue your side when someone can't even see it is like trying to point out the Mayflower to the Indians. Save your breath.
- As you try to get them to see your side, all of your energy and focus is on you not them. Not a good way to magnetically get them to connect with you.
In order to shatter this belief, you have to see conflict not as opposing but as enlightening. It is a way to expand your thinking, not contract it. It is a way for both you and another party to create and build what was not there before.
Belief #2: You must get the person to understand where they are wrong and you are right.
When you believe you need to get the person to see where you are right and they are wrong, you are making two critical assumptions that shut down your ability to listen.
- You are assuming there is a right or a wrong. This means you will only listen for data and facts that fit what you see as right or wrong. Much of the valid data you need for critical thinking will be lost for you since your brain won’t even be able to hear or see it.
- You are better or have better information than the other person, and therefore you have the right perspective. Think back to the “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato. The person looking at the shadows saw the “truth” of the shadows on the wall. The person looking at the wall couldn't even begin to hear about what was casting the shadow because, to them, the shadow was the “truth.” Which person are you: the person seeing the shadow or the person seeing the real object?
You want to be able to take in as much information as possible so you can see the possibilities in the conflict rather than the improbabilities.
In order to shatter this belief, you have to get rid of the idea that there is a right or wrong and that you need the other person to validate your position. This desire for validation causes your brain to become hyper protective of you, which kicks your amygdala into action. Your amygdala is a small almond-shaped part of your brain that reacts to fear. It floods your brain chemically and short-circuits your ability to use your front cortex (which is the reasoning part of your brain.)
When a fear response is triggered in the amygdala, it leaves you with two basic primal reactions to operate under: fight or flight. Flight usually is seen in the burst of tears, and fight is seen in the arrogant, sarcastic or sometimes even childish way of saying things and rigidly holding to your argument.
Neither reaction is good. What you need to do is stop that chemical flow from even happening. (Want to know something scary? Within 5 minutes of that chemical reaction happening in your brain, your brain will shut down thinking and listening for 8 hours!)
So you need to shift from focusing on the defense side of “but or however” and start focusing on the “and” side.
Belief #3: All Conflict Needs to Be Resolved
World Peace. It is the number one answer beauty contestants give when asked what they want in the world.
In corporations you hear people say they want peace in the office. For most people that means no conflict, so we all play to get rid of conflict or to resolve it so everybody is happy.
Not all conflict is resolvable nor should it be. Having differences is healthy. In order to be creative you often need to be pushed so hard that what you did before is no longer is acceptable or possible. This forces your brain to think of an alternative possibility instead of staying status quo.
I believe our economy is actually helping businesses reinvent and become better simply because what worked in the past no longer works.
Have you ever wondered why your divorced friends look the best they ever have? Why, suddenly, do they lose the weight, join a gym and buy new clothes? As they shed their old life, they shed the old way of doing things and start a new path.
Conflict doesn't need to be resolved. It does need to be handled. It does need to be addressed. And, yes, at times someone needs to just say, "This is how it will be."
So, when you run into conflict in the future, see it as an opportunity to expand your thinking and create new opportunities. It is a time of growth.
More strategies for changing your thinking:
Success scientist Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson urges women to shift their "Be Good" mindset to a "Get Better" mindset. Focusing on progress rather than final performance could make all the difference in reaching your goals.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall urges women to not focus so much energy on being lady-like and instead indulge their political anger to provoke change.
Jane Goldner shares nuggets of wisdom from successful, top-level women that relieve the pressure of feeling like you have to be “everything to everybody.”
As a prominent author, speaker, coach and Impression Management Professional, Ann Warfield’s expertise is utilized to gain insight and to create change in leadership and communication within Fortune 500 companies around the world. Warfield’s foundational methodology, Outcome Thinking®, shows how to build a candid corporate culture of communication that allows you to lead, present and negotiate transformationally rather than transactionally. She is based in Minneapolis, and her strategies have been shared worldwide include via Forbes, ABC and Business Week.