When Rob and I began to work through a conflict it felt like we were getting ready to rumble. You could almost hear the echoing voice of the announcer. As our early clashes proved, that’s not a healthy way to confront the issues.
Learn to Assume the Best
At times, Rob and I assumed the worst about one another, not the best. As one of our other partners at Credera, David Dobat, has said, “In the absence of information, people make it up.” So we would make stuff up, assuming bad motives and assigning bad intent.
In our minds we were already warring against one another before we had spent any time working it out. That’s no way to confront conflict.
Direct & Gracious
When you’re going to confront an issue, you need to be direct and gracious. You are confronting someone, but you don’t want to be confrontational about it. Don’t go in pointing fingers and making accusations. If the motive is anything but love, take some time to consider why you really want to confront that person. Is it to make you feel better or get something off your chest? Or is it to help them? This matters. Examine your intent.
Be direct and open about the issue. Don’t create fractures in the organization because you don’t have the guts to talk to the person you have a conflict with.
Either go and talk to them or don’t say anything at all. If you are feeling anxious or fearful about talking to that person alone, bring a trustworthy person with you. Whatever you do, don’t gossip about the situation or the individual to others and don’t talk behind one another’s backs. This isn’t junior high.
It’s also important not to complain about minor concerns when there are bigger issues at the heart of the problem. In fact, it’s important to overlook minor squabbles and focus on the major issues.
Private & In-Person
When you’re ready to confront a conflict, do it in person and in private. You’re not out to shame someone and this is a conversation that does not need an audience. Phone calls and emails fail to convey the full range of communication you get sitting in the same room as somebody. Schedule time to sit down face to face and work it out.
Plan & Prepare
You need to think through your confrontation before it happens. Don’t barge in and shoot from the hip. Plan out what you’re going to say. Anticipate reactions and responses. Actually practice what you’re going to say. It might sound ridiculous to rehearse a confrontation, but it’s a good way to keep a level head and stay focused on the problem at hand. It’s easy to get flustered in the heat of a discussion and start focusing on things that don’t matter. Remember to think about how the other person is receiving all of this—how would you want to be confronted? How can you communicate in a way that can be appropriately digested by the person on the receiving end?
Forgive & Rebuild
Finally, when you come to clarity on “your part” of the conflict you need to ask for forgiveness. It’s not your responsibility to make the person you are in conflict with grant forgiveness to you or ask for forgiveness from you. You just do your job. This is really hard. And this is something I’ve had to learn how to do. Trusting the process is important. It’s not up to you to figure out how to fix the other person. Remember, your job is to “own” your part.
When you do get to the point when it is time to ask for forgiveness it’s not as simple as saying I’m sorry. Saying “I’m sorry,” just recognizes our sorry behavior. It can be a good step, but “sorry” doesn’t help anything. It’s counterproductive if you put your responsibility back on the one who got hurt: “I’m sorry if your feelings are hurt.” That’s no bueno.
There’s a better, more healing way to forgive and rebuild:
“I’m sorry for hurting you. Will you please forgive me?”
- Takes responsibility for action that caused the pain
- Takes the power out of our hands
“Yes, I forgive you. Thank you for asking.”
- Provides opportunity to choose love over bitterness
- Provides an opportunity to offer forgiveness
“Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
- Provides an opportunity to make amends
- Begins the process of rebuilding trust
Rebuilding trust is key. The entire point of confronting conflict is to come to a point where you can move forward together. If Rob and I stormed off to our respective offices after a confrontation we wouldn’t be getting anywhere. You need to confront conflict in the appropriate manner so that relationship reconciliation is possible.