Overcoming these six conflict resolution barriers will improve your leadership communication skills and reduce the amount of time invested in conflict resolution.
Managers end up spending a large amount of time on resolving a variety of different types of conflict in the workplace, whether it be from the people they lead, clients, vendors, colleagues, or personal conflict. Furthermore, studies have shown that conflict incurs large direct and indirect costs, which adversely affect your bottom line. There are many methods to resolving conflict that experts will prescribe, but no matter which one you choose to follow there are six common conflict resolution barriers that people will run into. Here is a brief explanation of these six conflict resolution barriers. I encourage you to remember them, perhaps print this list and hang it in your office, so you can remain mindful of them the next time you have to resolve a conflict.
1. Getting Defensive
It is a natural reaction for all of us to get defensive in the face of conflict. The problem is that when you become defensive you are effectively “adding fuel to the fire.” Your defensive response will only fan the flames in the other party, while also limiting your ability to really listen to and understand the other person’s perspective on the issue. In other words, it closes the door to the open, two-way communication that is needed for constructive resolution.
Instead of becoming defensive, force yourself to keep quiet and listen to what the other party has to say – really listen to them. Encourage them to provide you with more detail and feedback on their view, if you have to.
2. Dismissing the Topic as Unimportant
Do either of these sound familiar to you:
“You’re making too big of a deal out of this.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
If somebody comes to you with a conflict and they are venting their frustrations and you respond in this way, you are dismissing the topic as unimportant. If it’s important to them, it needs to become important to you. It is important for you to know this: feelings are neither right nor wrong, they are simply information. You should never say something like, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
Instead of dismissing their feelings, get to the root of why they are feeling that way. Do this by asking for more information, and then repeating back to them what you’ve just heard. This way, you make sure you understand their perspective on the issue clearly, and they receive validation that they are being listened to. Remember, it’s not about whether their perspective and feelings are right or wrong, it’s simply about understanding where the conflict is coming from.
3. Jumping to Conclusions without Having the Facts
This is a very tough one, particularly because our brains have evolved to draw on past experiences to make complex decisions quickly. This helped us in ancient times when we hunted and scavenged for food, but it’s not so helpful when it comes to solving conflict issues in our modern day lives.
Jumping to conclusions can stem from our defensiveness, particularly if the conflict is about us personally. It also arises when you’re mediating conflict, for example when two employees are in conflict. You need to make sure you don’t jump to conclusions before you get the other side of the story.
It is admittedly very tough not to jump to conclusions, but you can do so by reserving judgement until you have heard all sides of the story. Sometimes, it is prudent to include others to tell the story if there are witnesses to the conflict.
4. Not Listening to Others
It is very common for us to mentally prepare our comeback instead of listening; we’re all guilty of it. The problem, like many of these other barriers, is that we’re not allowing the other person to be heard, and we’re not giving ourselves the chance to understand their perspective. Active listening in a conflict situation allows each party involved in the conflict space to de-escalate the tone of the conflict, become less aggressive, and signals to others that they are respected.
Instead of trying to think of you are going to say in response, make yourself stop and listen. Repeat back to them when you understand they are saying, both to signal to the other person that you are indeed listening and also to make sure you do in fact understand what they are saying.
5. Inability to Empathize with Others
Some of us just naturally find it hard to empathize with others, particularly in a conflict situation where you know the other person is in the wrong. However, having empathy for another person has nothing to do with whether they are right or wrong. You’re simply signaling to the other person that you’ve heard their side of the story, and you understand that they are feeling this way.
Empathizing does not have to be a drawn-out monologue, it’s more about identifying that you’re aware of how they are feeling. You could say something along the lines of, “I would imagine you might also be feeling like ‘Why do I even try? What does it matter to any one?’ Are you feeling that way?” This is a great way to signal empathy and understanding, even if you’re not particularly feeling empathetic toward the other person.
6. Inability to Stay Calm
There are always those times when things just explode and the conflict begins to escalate. People are raising their voices, becoming more aggressive, and shifting into “attack mode”. You will begin to lose your control in this scenario as well. But, you must maintain control and make sure you never lose your cool in these situations. This is perhaps the most damaging barrier that you could put up in resolving conflict.
First, stop and think about what you are about to do or say. Will this help or hinder the situation? Keeping your voice low and calm when you do talk will help calm yourself and others down. Create a safe place where people can openly express their opinions, and be sure your responses only include the facts, without exaggeration or bias. These steps will keep you from adding fuel to the fire, and hopefully de-escalate the issue so everyone can move forward with a resolution.
Always remember that not every conflict will have a resolution where everyone wins, it’s just a fact of life. However, there are tools at our disposal for effectively managing conflict and resolve these issues in such a way that everyone can walk away feeling that their voice has been heard and that they have been treated respectfully. At the end of the day, is that what we all really want?