A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post, What is conflict zen? and promised I’d flesh out the most important characteristics of conflict zen.
One of those characteristics is clarity…what it’s really about and what most needs to be discussed to clear the air and get back on track. I want to offer up three eye-opening questions that can unlock even the most complicated conflicts and I’ll focus on one each in a short series of posts.
Clarity Question 1. What is this really about for me?
It may be tempting to answer this one quickly, making it all about them. Don’t do it! Examples of throw-away, trap-ridden answers in workplace conflict include,
- How sick I am of his passive-aggressive attitude.
- Her disrespectful treatment of me in front of others.
- The way she passes off all responsibility for problems and puts the blame on my shoulders.
The hint that you’ve taken the easy way out is when your answer is essentially a restatement of your diagnosis of the other person and their behavior. The problems with diagnosing outwardly instead of gaining inner clarity are:
- You may be right. You also have a reasonable chance of being wrong. Every person you have conflict with has others who think they’re terrific.
- Even if you are right, is it likely that your repeated diagnosis is going to lead to their changing that part of themselves? When you make it all about them you give up all your negotiating power to their discretion.
- You assume the problem behavior is a state of being for them, when it could just as easily be a reasonable reaction to something they see from you.
- You’ve missed the real key to unlocking the conflict: Your own actionable clarity.
Don’t take the easy way out.
Ask yourself the question again, with the emphasis on the last two words: What is this really about for me?
Building off the examples above, here are more meaningful answers that give you clarity about how to proceed:
- Wanting to know that when he and I agree on something, he’s fully agreeing and will act on that agreement.
- Wanting to be seen as the competent manager I am.
- Willingness to assume responsibility to the degree I should, but not take on blame for someone else’s actions.
The first type of answer gets you trapped, the second opens up meaningful dialogue
See the difference?
Tempting answer 1: How sick I am of his passive-aggressive attitude.
Makes the conversation about: Whether or not he’s passive aggressive (he’ll no doubt say he’s not), how it’s got to stop, and how wrong you are.
Better answer 1: Wanting to know that when he and I agree on something, he’s fully agreeing and will act on that agreement.
Makes the conversation about: How to ensure you’re getting genuine agreement instead of an avoidant response. This offers fertile ground for change. Maybe he’s afraid to disagree with you. Maybe when he tries to disagree he feels ignored, so he’s given up and just nods to get the conversation over with. Maybe he feels pressed for time and isn’t aware that taking time to sort out a truly effective agreement is worth it to you. Maybe something else worth discovering.
When you get clarity on what it’s about for you, you open up the possibility of discovery. And effective conflict resolution is all about discovery.
What do you think?
I’ll talk about Clarity Question 2 in my next post.