Do you sometimes end up on the wrong side of a conversation without quite knowing why? It is something that can happen all too easily, whether at work or in your personal life. What was meant as factual comment or an amusing observation is somehow taken the wrong way, and you suddenly find yourself in a tricky situation caused by an unexpected point of contention or an unwanted misunderstanding.
This can quickly lead to arguments or conflicts, even a major falling out and fractured relationships. And, at a time when many people are dealing with more than the useful stresses and strains, that can create an emotional rollercoaster, making some day-to-day encounters really uncomfortable.
So, it is important to know how to disagree with others without causing offence or risking involvement in a more serious conflict. What starts as a minor issue can escalate into a row of major proportions, which makes it essential to have the right tools in your “bag of tricks” in order to sense potential difficulties and thus avoid them.
The first thing is to realize that a difference of opinion is quite normal. But it can lead to conflict for any number of reasons. These include each person’s mindset, beliefs, background, and past experiences.
In our training sessions, when talking to the people at various levels within an organization, the topic of managing conflicts always comes up. It is obviously an area that concern them more than most. We explain that there are no formulas or algorithms to ensure a successful conversation. However, there are general guidelines and useful pointers, which help things to run more smoothly. These include the following:
Understand different styles of communication
Many questionnaires are available online to help you identify, understand and handle various personality types and styles of communication. For instance, some people like to talk about “big picture” solution, while others prefer a more detailed analysis. Certain individuals are more outgoing and approachable. Others are naturally reserved and often reluctant to come straight out with their thoughts and ideas. Spotting and allowing for these differences make it much easier to communicate effectively.
Plan and prepare your message
Before or even during any encounter, it makes sense to consider what’s in it for the other person. Ask yourself what they expect and what they will be hoping for. You can then “position your message” in a way that takes account of what is likely to work best in the circumstances. If you can do that, it creates an advantage and reduces the chance of conflict.
Try our “chip” approach
This method works well as a basis for all communication. Therefore, in unfamiliar or more formal situations, it can almost become your “default” mode, something you can switch to quite naturally without the need for too much practice or mental preparation. The four main elements are:
- Connecting – relate to people by reaching our proactively. Start things on a lighter note without getting into the main issue at land too quickly. Take the time to build rapport and find common ground.
- Harnessing – enhance your impact by modulating your voice and making eye contact where possible. If on a phone call, your tone and expressions still count for a lot, so make sure they convey positive intent – and a willingness to listen.
- Investigating – involve other people and make the effort to really understand their viewpoints. You may not agree with them, but at least you should know where they are coming from. Ask questions to help you understand the reasoning behind their comments or ideas, rather than to present a direct challenge.
- Pacifying – do not reject contrasting ideas outright. That seldom helps and it can cause people to feel they have lost face. Instead, acknowledge their feelings and then explain your own perspective, while also showing “advantages to them” that could result.
Overall, to avoid conflicts and become a master communicator, you should plan ahead more carefully for potentially difficult encounters, make the chip process a natural extension of your usual style, and be in control of yourself even at times when it might be hard to manage emotions.