27 September 2023

Peacing together: How conversation can help resolve conflict

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Paul Petrone* says there are a few best practices to follow to avoid the most common mistakes people make when dealing with conflict.

Photo: Johnny Greig

I’ve done it many, many times.

And, if you are being honest, you’ve probably done it too.

We disagree with someone or have some sort of conflict with them.

They might not even be aware the conflict exists — but, in our mind, they are the enemy.

And so, what do we do?

Talk with the person and figure it out, so we can put it behind us?

Often, we do the exact opposite.

We start assuming what they’d say if we actually were to talk to them — and dissect the insanity of their assumed logic.

And that causes us to avoid talking to them at all, because we question the use.

Of course, while it’s very common to do that, it isn’t particularly healthy.

Instead, executive coach Marlene Chism suggests doing the exact opposite.

“It’s so easy to fall into gossip and present our assumptions as absolute fact,” Chism said in her LinkedIn Learning course, “Having Difficult Conversations”.

“But we do ourselves a disservice and block our potential of successfully engaging in a difficult — yet productive — conversation.”

A better way to handle conflict: Be curious, instead of presumptive

Rather than assuming what the other person is going to say without ever speaking to them, Chism says there’s a better way: actually addressing the conflict with a conversation.

Yes, these are difficult conversations to have, but they are the best way to resolve things.

Chism says a few best practices to follow before going into any difficult conversation are:

  1. Manage your narrative

Our brains, if left unchecked, have a tendency to focus on the negative.

That applies to conflict — our instinct, sadly, is to tend to think the worst of the other person.

To avoid this, you need to proactively manage the narrative inside your head.

Rather than thinking the person you are in conflict with is acting maliciously, be more pragmatic and self-referential: “I need to find out what happened so I can fix it.”

  1. Be curious

Along those lines, when looking to resolve a conflict with someone else, don’t approach a conversation with them thinking you already know what they’ll say.

Instead, approach the conflict with an open mind, eager to learn why the other person acted the way they did.

“Being a know-it-all closes off possibilities,” Chism said.

“If you think you already know someone’s motives, you won’t try to understand them.”

  1. Go to the source of conflict

This is the last thing many of us want to do.

When we get into a conflict with someone, we usually talk about it with everyone but that person.

It’s okay to vent to a friend or talk through the issue with a coach.

But ultimately, going to the source is how to resolve the conflict, despite how much you resist it internally.

“No matter how much others confirm your experience, your real opportunity is to communicate with the person with whom you have the conflict,” Chism said.

* Paul Petrone is Editor of LinkedIn Learning.

This article first appeared at learning.linkedin.com.

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