Conflict usually arises when we are working with the people who are close to us. We will have conflicts with our spouse, parents, siblings, colleagues, bosses, business partners etc. These are the people whom we met almost daily, thus the chances of having conflict with one another is extremely high.
After coaching for more than three years, looking at about 150 cases of conflict between people, I derived that there are typically three main reasons for conflicts to arise. In this post, you will understand the reasons behind it and the strategy to resolve conflicts.
During my work with companies with our team building program, I see interpretation of people from people at its peak. Every statement said is being interpreted. Every compliment given is being suspected.
One participant shared about her boss who praised her. “This is pretty well done.” She interpreted it as her boss didn’t want her to feel bad after all the effort she put in. She suspected that the compliment was not genuine.
Isn’t it tiring to work in such organization when communication and intention are misinterpreted? When everything is being taught to have a second, third or fourth meaning, how would conflict not arise?
Interpretation creates judgements and division. When you start making things up about the people around you, the things they say or do, you begin to form walls around you. You no longer treat them as pure fellow human beings, but objects. Because the next time you talk to them, you are wearing your filtered glasses to interpret any alternate meaning that you can interpret. These walls divide you and this person.
When interpretations are not cleared, judgements begin to build up. This layer of defense wall gets thicker very fast. Soon, the action or language of this person irritates the hell out of you.
Newton’s third law states that when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body
Things that this person says or do is a force exerting on you. Therefore, naturally you exert an equal force opposite. You will react to his action or language in a unfriendly manner. Now, do you see the conflict forming?
Three important words to resolve the conflict by interpretation. Clarify, clarify, clarify. People make meaning out of everything and believe what they want to believe. But they never check the real intention behind those words or actions. They are too afraid to ask, too scared to clarify. Most prefer to dwell in their own interpretation. And when being asked to clarify with the party involved, the usual response is, “How do I ask? I can’t do that.”
Imagine the participant clarifies with her boss. “Boss, I just like to check with you on something. Do you really feel that this is a good piece of work? I certainly hope that you are not saying it because you don’t want me to feel bad. I am alright if it is not up to your standard, you can tell me the truth because that’s where I can learn and improve. I don’t want to have assumption, I just want to clarify.”
Isn’t this easier? No more interpretation, no more making up stories, no more walls. And by clarifying, you are actually bringing the relationship of both parties closer.
2nd Reason – Expectation
This is slightly more complex as all parties involve have to align their expectation. And expectation is caused by two factors
First factor is the clarity of communication and definition. Expectation can be clouded when all parties bring along their own experiences.
A real example here to show you the mismatch of expectation.
Johnny: We are going to take on this project. But I can only afford to spare my Mondays from 2pm – 6pm to work on this project.
Cindy, Darren, Jim: Alright, we will meet on every Monday 2pm – 6pm then.
(3 months later)
Cindy: Why are we spending so much time meeting? We are spending 4 hours on meeting every week. We should be more effective. I only spend one hour for all other meetings.
Johnny: But I can only spare 4 hours per week to work on this. The rest of the time I am working on other projects. So this 4 hours, I am focusing on this project, not just meeting, but working on the task too.
Darren: What! You mean you don’t touch this project at all other than this 4 hours allocated.
Johnny: That is correct.
Darren: Then what’s the point that I work so hard, spending my other days working on it.
Johnny: That’s why we meet for 4 hours every week. It is to complete what is needed in this 4 hours. So that, we are free to do other projects on other days.
Jim: I got that part from the beginning. We will only work on it in this 4 hours.
Cindy: I totally didn’t get this part.
So this is the misalignment of expectation. This can be resolve easily with clearer communication, and defining all the terms clearly. Example, begin punctual means different things to different people.
Some think that to be punctual means on the dot.
Some think that to be punctual means five minutes early.
Some think that five minutes late is still consider punctual.
Basically, define everything clearly to avoid conflicts and upsets.
The second form of expectation comes with deep belief system. When you and me with different belief system start a conversation, it’s a matter of time that we will experience volcanic eruption.
Mum: Why don’t you go get a job? Start a business is so risky.
Me: I don’t want to work for others. There is no future in that.
Mum: Get a job, the company will take care of you.
Me: Times have changed. Company no longer take cares of their staff like they used to anymore.
Mum: You will have certainty and security in a job.
Me: Running my business is the sure way to certainty and security.
Mum: Did you notice those who fail in business?
Me: Did you notice those who are retrenched?
This conversation will never end due to the different belief system between my mum and me. You will definitely meet others who have different belief system in your office.
This is a much more complex issue than just defining words clearly. How do you close the gap of different belief system?
This isn’t about alignment of communication anymore. No matter how much you communicate, it won’t work. Because both communications take place in a different reality.
It’s like a Christian having a religious discussion with a Muslim. Both of them operate in different reality, they will never see eye to eye with each other’s perspective.
You have to move up the scale for cases like this. Instead of discussing the content that will never reach a conclusion, both have to agree that this is a matter of belief. Both have to acknowledge that there is no right and wrong about belief system. There is no right or wrong about belief, both have to agree that both are right.
You got to let go of the “I’m right and you are wrong” concept. When you hold onto the “I’m right, you’re wrong concept”, you are attacking the other person’s belief. How would you react when someone is attacking your belief system?
Going back to the Christian and Muslim religious conversation, both got to acknowledge the faith of the other party. The common ground is that both believe in a divine being.
So acknowledge the different belief systems. Then acknowledge that both are right at the same time. Then work forward from that point.
3rd Reason – Righteousness
This is the mother of all conflicts. At the 2nd reason, you learn about “I’m right and you’re wrong” concept. This is a sure way to get into a conflict with anyone. Going into I’m right and you’re wrong puts you into a position. When you take on a position, and the other person also takes on a position, this means war.
You won’t be able to resolve anything when you take on a position. My righteousness always got me into trouble. Nowadays, when I take on any position, I’ll ask myself a few questions to soften my position.
I ask myself:
– Am I always right? Chances are not all the time.
– What if I’m wrong? This opens up other possibilities other than mine.
– What if this person is right? I am ready to listen now.
– Am I too righteous that I causing the conflict? I am ready to soften by this time.
This allows you to look at the same conflict from different perspective, searching a different solution. The important to all these three resolutions is to allow you to look beyond the conflict and to find a resolution. This resolution may be something that is not yet exists