Conflict is a natural part of our daily life; and since we spend so much of our time in our professional sphere, it’s inevitable that we will disagree – sometimes vehemently – with colleagues. For most of us, these dynamics are emotionally charged, tiring and very stressful. We may even feel defeated and disempowered to speak up in certain situations. My purpose today is to set forth 5 questions we can ask when conflict enters the room.
5 Questions To Ask When Conflict Enters the Room
One way to look at conflict is like a guest that rolls in uninvited whose presence settles in despite being unwelcome to the party. But what if that overbearing presence became a catalyst to change the dynamics in the room for the better? In fact, conflict can be, and often is a very powerful mechanism that can shift the power of persuasion and influence. When conflict enters the room it can be used to position and strengthen facts in a way that will redirect the other side’s thoughts on an initial value proposition, or motivate them to have a vested interest in a specific outcome.
Early in my career – in complete contrast to my background in litigation – I was fortunate to experience conflict as an invited guest to the table. In this setting, the clients were seeking specific advice on how to preserve wealth. This required coordinated efforts among a number of multi-disciplinary professional advisors who set about creating estate planning, tax advisory services, and investment strategies. With the number of voices at the table, it’s no surprise there were a variety of approaches, no shortage of informed opinions, and a number of different strategies that could benefit the client. Conflicted viewpoints dominated, but we were able to build rapport because it enriched everyone’s knowledge-base. It was the most effective tool in creating a well thought-through plan for the client, which compelled collaboration.
This experience opened my eyes to how productive it can be when conflict enters the room and problems have to be worked through. Even in the midst of strong disagreement, discomfort with certain suggestions, prolonged discussion on issues that could be easily resolved, varying interpretations of regulations and laws, the differing positions allowed for constructive dialogue that formed the basis of a more cohesive strategy. You may not always agree with someone, but you will gain an understanding of their approach and even learn to appreciate their point of view.
Cultivate presence at the table and learn to use conflict to your advantage; learn how to listen to the other side and focus less on the people and more on the issues.
Ask yourself these five questions when conflict enters the room…
- Is the other person bringing up a valid point of view?
- Is the other person bringing up things I didn’t even think of?
- What are the other person’s concerns?
- How would I reframe the issue if I disagree? (I.e. Particularly if put forth in an abrasive or aggressive manner How could I reframe that issue to understand what they are actually trying to get across?)
- What are the pros and cons of doing this particular approach? (I.e. What is the cost of doing it one way versus another, or not doing it at all?)
When we ask questions, we are affording ourselves the opportunity to step back and reframe issues while still controlling the context. This is one strategy where we can use disagreement to our advantage. When we do this successfully, it opens up the possibility to collaborate, to build trust and rapport with those sitting at the table. Those at the table begin to understand how everyone views things and how all the parties are approaching the problem, thereby carving out common ground.
If the aggravation and stress of the discussion is getting to you, cultivate awareness about your triggers. If you feel yourself getting aggravated, take a breath, stop speaking, listen for a few minutes and reframe your point of view. Take a minute to consider- Is this something that I can work with? This strategy allows you to work with your emotions rather than against them by downplaying any adverse reactions you may come to regret.
In many professional settings, conflict is one of the best tools to generate ideas and harvest creativity. Remember, you are among a group of knowledgeable, successful, intuitive and experienced professionals who bring different value propositions to the table. Take advantage of this opportunity to acquire increased intelligence. How helpful it would be if we learned to do this more frequently! While it’s not always possible to achieve a “win-win”, we can certainly aim for this by taking proactive steps to take advantage of conflict by encouraging different points of view.
Knowing how to use conflict to your advantage can form the basis for an effective communication style and build presence at the table.
The above questions and tips are provided in an effort to use conflict purposely, constructively and productively at a meeting.
What strategies have you relied on when conflict enters the room? Share what has been effective for you to turn conflict to your advantage in the corporate sphere.
In case you missed our last post, be sure to read How to Frame Conflict.