By Paul Davis
Going to court is becoming increasingly costly and often futile. Parties and individuals in conflict are therefore turning to alternative methods of dispute resolution – mediation and arbitration being two options. We must negotiate our way from confrontation to cooperation.
Here are some Secrets to Successful Conflict Resolution.
1. Consider conflict an opportunity not a curse
Conflict is a character building and interpersonal communications improvement opportunity. We all have blind spots, preconceived ideas, personal peculiarities and tendencies that can make us hard to deal with at times. Being able to identify other character types and communication styles is beneficial for us, though it may not always be easy to endure at first.
Learn to respond to conflict naturally and with openness. Keep your ears and heart open to receive. In so doing you will disarm the aggressor and show yourself to be a reasonable human being. To do otherwise will only further antagonize the angered party and increase aggression and the erecting of walls between you. Sometimes as you listen and ask for more information as to the true source of the conflict you will find perhaps that what seemed to be the initial problem was merely superficial as you dig deeper into the real underlying problem eating at the person. In such situations conflict becomes a learning experience for both of you.
2. Respect and don’t reject people regardless of your disagreement
Separate the person from the behavior. Remember we all come from different backgrounds, upbringings and environments that have shaped and molded us to be who we are today. We are all continually changing and evolving. Give people grace to grow as they come to a greater level of self-awareness. As you do and they discover how gracious you’ve been to them, they will become the most loyal employees you will ever have. This is true empowerment.
3. Acknowledge and confess any contributory negligence
Conflict always begins within. It is often bred within our own hearts and minds as we prematurely judge, falsely assume, erroneously jump to conclusions, and allow ourselves to become overly invested in our individual interests. Purity of heart and mind is obtained when we examine ourselves first before scrutinizing somebody else. We must judge ourselves first. We commonly however judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. This is to say we don’t typically use fair weights, standards and measures when we judge others.
If we would be brutally honest with ourselves we would find that in every conflict we have somehow contributed to it be through what we have said, done or left unsaid and undone. Neglecting to affirm your employees after work well done is as negligent behavior as them forgetting to get the work done. We all hunger for recognition and praise. Management must honor and recognize people for their performance. If we don’t recognize someone else will. To avoid employee departures and high turnover, we must honor and acknowledge their efforts.
Sometimes in the midst of all our efforts to be increasingly productive and profitable, we are not personable and can be offensive one to another. Recognize such times and apologize for being that way. By acknowledging and apologizing wrong doing you as the executive in charge are taking responsibility and encouraging everyone to be responsible. Confession brings freedom. Suddenly you will find many people begin to humble themselves and confess their own faults. It won’t be long before everyone is reconciled and bonding again. Rest assured when this happens employee morale and productivity will skyrocket. Where people feel well they work well.
4. Step into greatness by overcoming evil with good
Forgive and extend a chance to be reconciled. After World War I the United States proved to be a society with enormous confidence in its achievements and in its future wherewith it mustered the dedication and the resources to strive for a world order in which defeated enemies would be conciliated, stricken allies restored, and adversaries converted. Because the United States took the higher ground endeavoring to reconcile, restore and convert its enemies after defeating them, it is today a world super power.
The stronger you are the more gentle you can afford to be. Gentleness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of true strength. When you overcome evil with good it disarms the wrongdoer to be transformed after which they are more likely to live up to your ideals and level of integrity.
5. Formulate what you want to say and how you will say it
Remember it is not only what you say, but how you say it. The manner and tone by which you express yourself will determine the level of receptivity with which it is received. Receiving constructive criticism is never easy, but it can be bearable if the person giving it is kind, affirming and sincere. Start up soft, affirming the person’s good qualities and your working relationship before proceeding to find fault and correct. Build on strengths and proceed from a place of agreement. Compliment and praise before providing constructive criticism.
6. Value internal security and harmony over external security and acceptance.
Be confident and congruent with what you say in conflict. Don’t waver because of resistance or lack of acceptance. Be true to yourself. Avoid personalizing rejection concerning corporate decisions and objectives. Separate yourself personally from the corporation at large.
7. Avoid premature assumptions
Premature and erroneous assumptions dwarf you, hinder employee morale and diminish the company. Don’t believe it is so until you have first heard it from the horse’s mouth. Avoid gossiping. Get things out in the open and speak face to face respectfully. Remember presumption is the great transgression (Psalm 19:12-13).
Before the days of U.S. President Reagan and Russian President Gorbachev’s relationship, inherent ideologies and perceptions kept us apart. Communist ideology was at the heart of Stalin’s approach to the world. Stalin regarded the Western capitalist powers as irrevocably hostile. The friction between the Soviet Union and America was therefore not the product of some misunderstanding or faulty communications between Washington and Moscow, but inherent in the Soviet Union’s perception of the outside world.
George Kennan, an expert on Russia, examining the philosophical and conceptual framework for Stalin’s foreign policy found in Russian rulers fear. At the bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is the traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with the economically advanced West, a fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted Russian rulers rather than Russian people.
8. Speak with positive expectation believing the best
Stating your feelings and desire with positive expectation pulls people to the level of performance you desire. For example, “William, you’ve always done a great job of giving your all in every account. As of late however you seem to not quite be yourself. Is there anything I can do to help? I desire to see you succeed and be your personal best. Know I am fully committed to you as you are to this company.” Affirming a person and your expectations of their success will endear a person to you and cause them to want to live up to your wishes.
You get what you expect. Henry Kissinger, in his Diplomacy book, recognized the part faith played in the United States rise to becoming a global power. President Truman proclaimed his doctrine as “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The Truman Doctrine marked a watershed because once America had thrown down the moral gauntlet, the kind of Realpolitik Stalin understood best would be forever at an end.
Anchored to a platform of social and economic reform, the United States announced that it would oppose not only any government but any organization that impeded the process of European recovery.
Only a country as idealistic, as pioneering, and as relatively inexperienced as the United States could have advanced a plan for global economic recovery based solely on its own resources. …Great enterprises are often driven by a touch of naivete.
9. Practice active listening, offering reflections
Listen attentively and reflect back what you are hearing the person saying. Reiterate and seek to clarify that you are hearing correctly. By doing so, you give the person an opportunity to double their feedback to you and accurately convey both their thoughts and feelings. Provide inclusive summaries stating your take on what they are saying after you’ve fully heard them. Follow the emotional heat alongside the content being mentioned. Intense emotional tones accompany the most important content clueing you in on where you need to place additional emphasis and attention. Upon locating the emotional heat, ask for more information and investigate further while proceeding with sensitivity.
Proactive listening is accompanied with nonverbal cues and body language that affirm your genuine interest. For example, you could lean forward attentively. Avoid folding your arms as if to display disinterest or disagreement. Nodding your head also shows you are absorbing and taking in all that is being said. This is not to say you have to necessarily agree with what you are hearing, but you by listening can affirm the person. Highlight the choice points you heard made throughout the conversation and welcome any suggestions to alleviate the conflict. This will often open up the other person to likewise hear from you in regard to the matter.
10. Prefer and encourage cooperation and collaboration over competition
AOL’s negotiator, David Colburn, showed what can be done when he chose not to vilify the competition. I first studied this landmark case prepared by Professor James Sebenius with the author while studying Strategic Negotiation and Dealmaking at Harvard Business School.
AOL”s relationship with Microsoft was overwhelmingly hostile during the browser wars. In the early 1990’s, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, had been the single largest shareholder in AOL with a 29% stake. Allen wanted to take over AOL but was stopped in his tracks by Steve Case CEO of AOL. At the time, Bill Gates turned up the heat on Steve Case, telling him: “I can buy 20% of you or I can buy all of you. Or I can go into this business myself and bury you.” Two months later Microsoft unveiled MSN and became AOL’s most formidable direct competitor. Gates was demonized within AOL and a hostile relationship developed between the companies.
The media and information technology journalists had dubbed AOL “the Internet for dummies.” Steve Case desperately wanted to license the Navigator browser because a link to Netscape would gild AOL’s tarnished technological image.
AOL’s lead negotiator, David Colburn, who had only joined the firm in September 1995, was not hostile toward Microsoft. Colburn therefore was able to look for the better deal for AOL and assess what the market had to meet AOL’s needs. As it turned out Colburn brilliantly did some double dealmaking with both Netscape and Microsoft. AOL would pay Netscape a significant per copy fee to license Navigator which would become the “preferred” browser for AOL subscribers under a non-exclusive agreement. In return, AOL would have a prominent presence on the Netscape website and both companies would engage in cross-promotional activities. That day AOL stock rose 10%.
The very evening AOL inked a much bigger deal with Microsoft. AOL would not have to pay Microsoft a penny for Explorer – saving it millions. AOL client software would be bundled with Windows 95 allowing costless distribution to 50 million PC users a year. This free distribution and promotion via Windows represented a marketing coup because, until now, AOL had had to spend $40-$80 to attract each new subscriber.
MSN suddenly became a casualty of the AOL-Microsoft deal. Demonstrating daring strategic flexibility, Gates sacrificed much of his firm’s investment in MSN to fight Netscape’s threat to Microsoft’s core assets. The biggest win for Microsoft was that Explorer would be the virtually exclusive “default” browser for AOL’s rapidly growing subscriber base. Shutting Netscape out of this large market segment was a triumph not to be underestimated.
Cooperation does not mean an end to competition. As for our differences, we will not do away with them, but we can deal with them more constructively and creatively to build win-win relationships.
Conflict resolution is about facilitating and sustaining daily cooperation. Interpersonal conflict that we encounter every day can seem to be an insurmountable obstacle: attacks and counterattacks, anger and suspicion, ingrained habits of hard bargaining, interests that appear irreconcilable, and efforts to win through intimidation and power plays. Cooperation and collaboration on the other hand can stimulate creativity, increase profitability, lead to profound results and produce lifelong partnerships.
11. Practice diplomacy
Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. Master the art of persuasion. Instead of barking out orders, be suggestive in your directives to enable your staff to take ownership of ideas and embrace them as their own.
Perhaps you could say, “I realize you’ve always been a top performer, but in this instance I was wondering if you might consider this approach to accomplish these results?”
Suggestions sustains confidence in people while asserting your wishes indirectly.
12. Focus on problem solving and welcome outside input
You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Be honestly open to accept influence and consider another’s position. Reflect such openness in your body language when listening. Albert Einstein said: “It is people who make me seasick—not the sea. But I’m afraid that science is yet to find a solution for this ailment.” Solutions come when we actively pursue them together rather than fight one another. We all have blind spots and different perspectives. When we work together we all see more clearly and become more powerful. None of us are as strong as all of us.
13. Remember in conflict you can win a battle and lose the war.
Albert Einstein said: “As long as there will be man, there will be wars.” War is becoming an increasingly expensive and inconclusive way of handling acute conflicts. In an age of deadly weaponry, even bitter enemies must often learn to work together in order to survive.
Henry Kissinger in his book Diplomacy cites the aftermath of World War I. Once war had been declared, and as the streets of European capitals filled with cheering throngs, the conflict ceased being a conflict of chancelleries and turned into a struggle of the masses. After the first two years of the war, each side was stating terms incompatible with any notion of equilibrium.
What proved beyond everyone’s imagination was that both sides would win and lost at the same time: that Germany would defeat Russia and seriously weaken both France and England; but that, in the end, the Western Allies, with America’s indispensable assistance, would emerge as the victors. The aftermath of World War I was social upheaval, the enemy being strengthened geopolitically, ideological conflict, countless young men’s lives sacrificed and another world war.
14. Celebrate diversity and authenticity – diversity in thought, expression, professionalism, problem solving, interpersonal communication and way of life
Einstein said further: “Common convictions and aims, similar interests, will in every society produce groups that, in a certain sense, act as units. There will always be friction between such groups—the same sort of aversion and rivalry that exists between individuals…. In my opinion, uniformity in a population would not be desirable, even if it were attainable.”
15. Cultivate a culture of peace and preferring one another
By cultivating a culture of peace patience and tolerance for one another will be the result. Where there is patience unconditional love and acceptance is not far behind. Such an environment makes people feel safe, thrive, come alive and be increasingly creative and productive.
By preferring one another over ourselves, we give way to a spirit of generosity and brotherhood which causes a team mentality to arise. Less of me more of we. When we think like this the organization’s well being as a whole is thought of before that of the individual. Ask not what your company can do for you, ask what you can do for your company. Win-win relationships and interactions are then forged which bring about mutually inclusive benefits for all.
16. Maintain a sense of humor and unconditional acceptance
As successful marriages show us, you don’t have to always resolve your disagreements and conflicts to thrive. When you welcome people into your world they bring their peculiarities and problems along with them. Where there are no oxen the stall is, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox. Sometimes you have to accept people as they are realizing they may never change.
Matters of personal preference do not need to take preeminence in your working relationship. As the old adage goes there are many ways to skin a cat. Each of us prioritize differently. Keep things in their proper place and don’t unnecessarily take offense at another’s approach, manner of reasoning or way of logically (or illogically) processing a situation. Life is to be lived and enjoyed. Employ your sense of humor and unconditional acceptance of others and you will get far greater results and work productivity from your staff at the end of the day. People want to be acknowledged as individuals apart from their performance. Problems are inevitable. Celebrate and empower people despite their peculiarities and you will see them go the extra mile for you to solve your problems.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have a good laugh to diffuse the tension, disarm people and reunite with all involved.
17. Be merciful
Anyone can hold a grudge. It takes a quality person to rise above the offense, extend mercy and overlook it. Practice the art of pardoning and refuse to hold past resentments. Forgive and live!
Bitterness is a heavy burden that eats away at everyone involve and further spreads to infest all around you. It’s not worth carrying or perpetuating. As Shakespeare acknowledged mercy is twice blessed. Mercy blesses he that gives it and the recipient that takes it.
Paul Davis is author of Breakthrough for a Broken Heart a book telling us “How to overcome disappointments and blossom into your dreams!” Paul is a mediator (Hofstra Law School), negotiator (Harvard Business School), interrogator, life coach (relational & professional), popular worldwide keynote speaker, creative consultant, explorer, liberator and dream-maker.
Paul’s compassion for people & passion to travel has taken him to over 50 countries of the world where he has had a tremendous impact. Paul has also brought revival and reconciliation to many in war-torn, impoverished and tsunami stricken regions of the earth. His nonprofit organization Dream-Maker Ministries is building dreams and breaking limitations.
Paul’s Breakthrough Seminars inspire, revive, awaken, impregnate with purpose, impart the fire of desire, catapult people into a new level of self-awareness, facilitate destiny discovery and dream fulfillment.
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