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Workplace Conflict

from the Conflict Resolution Network

Handling Yourself


Five questions to consider: When angry/hurt/frightened...

  • Why am I feeling so angry/hurt/frightened?
  • What do I want to change?
  • What do I need in order to let go of this feeling?
  • Whose problem is this, really? How much is mine? How much is theirs?
  • What is the unspoken message I infer from the situation? (e.g. they don't like me, they don't respect me.)

Five goals: When communicating emotions...

  • Aim to avoid the desire to punish or blame. Action [How?]
  • Aim to improve the situation. Action [How?]
  • Aim to communicate your feelings appropriately. Action [How?]
  • Aim to improve the relationship and increase communication. Action [How?]
  • Aim to avoid repeating the same situation. Action [How?]
  • If communication is not appropriate, what other action can I take?

Handling Others


People's behavior occurs for a purpose. They are looking for ways to belong, feel significant, and self-protect. When people perceive a threat for their self-esteem, a downward spiral can begin. People can be led into obstructive behaviors in the faulty belief that this will gain them a place of belonging and significance. How we respond to their difficult behaviors can determine how entrenched these become.The secret is to break out of the spiral by supporting their real needs without supporting their destructive faulty beliefs, and alienating patterns of reaction.

Win-Win Approach: Opponents or Partners


The Win/Win Approach is about changing the conflict from adversarial attack and defense, to co-operation. It is a powerful shift of attitude that alters the whole course of communication.

One person consistently applying a joint problem-solving approach can make the difference. You, the reader, will probably be that person - redirecting the course of the conflict. Therefore, the first person you have to convince is yourself.

Until we give it attention, we are usually unaware of the way we argue. We often find ourselves with a knee-jerk reaction in difficult situations - based on long established habits combined with the passing mood of the moment. When challenged, we experience separateness, disconnectedness from those around us - a feeling of "you or me" - a sense that there isn't enough for both of us and if one person is right, then the other person must be wrong. Often we haven't taken even a moment to consider what is the best approach in the circumstances.

While people battle over opposing solutions "Do it my way!" "No, that's no good! Do it my way!" the conflict is a power struggle. What is needed is to change the agenda in the conversation. The win/win approach says: I want to win and I want you to win too. The challenge now is how to have this happen.

Go Back to Needs


The most important win/win maneuver you can make is to change course by beginning to discuss underlying needs, rather than only looking at solutions. The following story makes the point quite well:

There are two people in a kitchen. There is only one orange left and both of them want it. What would you expect as the solution? Compromise is one option. They might cut it in half and each gets half.
Let's assume that's what they do. One person now goes to the juicer and starts squeezing herself a rather too small orange juice. The other, with some difficulty, begins to grate the rind of the orange to flavor a cake.

Had they discussed needs rather than heading straight to solutions, they could have both had the equivalent of a whole orange. Their needs were complementary, in fact, not conflicting. With the determination to use a win/win approach, two sets of needs can frequently dovetail together.

Addressing each person s underlying needs means you build solutions that acknowledge and value those needs, rather than denying them. Even where solutions cannot be as perfect as in the orange story, the person feels quite differently about the outcome.

To probe below the surface requires redirecting the energy. Ask questions like "Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?", "What's your real need here?", "What interests need to be served in this situation?", "What values are important to you here?", "What's the outcome or result you want?"

The answers to these questions significantly alter the agenda on the discussion table. It places there the right materials for co-operative problem- solving. It leads to opportunities for you to say what you need and for other people to say what they need too.

Winning Strategies


I want what's fair for all of us. A win/win approach rests on strategies involving:

  • going back to underlying needs
  • recognition of individual differences
  • openness to adapting one s position in the light of shared information and attitudes
  • attacking the problem, not the people.

The Win/Win Approach is certainly ethical, but the reason for its great success is that IT WORKS. Where both people win, both are tied to the solution. They feel committed to the plan because it actually suits them.

Even when trust between the parties is very limited, the Win/Win Approach can be effective. If there's some doubt about the other person keeping their end of the bargain you can make the agreement reciprocal. "I'll do X for you, if you do Y for me." X supports their needs, Y supports yours. "I'll drive you to the party, if you clean the car." "I'll help you draw up those figures for your reports, if you sort out these invoice queries."

It's a successful strategy. Usually, co-operation can result in both people getting more of what they want. The Win/Win Approach is Conflict Resolution for mutual gain.

Negotiation Skills: Five Basic Principles


  • Be hard on the problem and soft on the person
  • Focus on needs, not positions
  • Emphasize common ground
  • Be inventive about options
  • Make clear agreements

Where possible prepare in advance. Consider what your needs are and what the other person's are. Consider outcomes that would address more of what you both want. Commit yourself to a win/win approach, even if tactics used by the other person seem unfair. Be clear that your task will be to steer the negotiation in a positive direction. To do so you may need to do some of the following:

Reframe


Ask a question to reframe. (e.g. "If we succeed in resolving this problem, what differences would you notice?" Request checking of understanding. ("Please tell me what you heard me/them say.") Request something she/he said to be re-stated more positively, or as an "I" statement. Re-interpret an attack on the person as an attack on the issue.

Respond not React


  • Manage your emotions.
  • Let some accusations, attacks, threats or ultimatums pass.
  • Make it possible for the other party to back down without feeling humiliated (e.g. by identifying changed circumstances that could justify a changed position on the issue.)

Re-focus on the issue


Maintain the relationship and try to resolve the issue. (e.g. "What's fair for both of us?" Summarize how far you've got. Review common ground and agreement so far. Focus on being partners solving the problem, not opponents. Divide the issue into parts. Address a less difficult aspect when stuck. Invite trading ("If you will, then I will"). Explore best and worst alternatives to negotiating an acceptable agreement between you.

Identify Unfair Tactics


Name the behavior as a tactic. Address the motive for using the tactic. Chance the physical circumstances. Have a break. Change locations, seating arrangements etc. Go into smaller groups. Meet privately. Call for meeting to end now and resume later, perhaps "to give an opportunity for reflection".