When you’re faced with a specifific situation, there are five things to do to assess the scenario at hand before taking action—understand your counterpart; identify the type of conflict you’re facing; consider the organizational context; determine your goal; and, finally, pick one of the four options you’ll take to deal with this particular situation.The first time you analyze a conflict using these five steps it will take some time, but eventually the analysis will get easier. The goal is to be able to quickly do these steps in your head whenever a disagreement arises. Find out right the first step - Understand Your Counterpart.
Understand Your Counterpart
First, consider whom you’re dealing with. Is he a conflict seeker or avoider? How does he typically communicate and how does he prefer to be communicated with? Is he more of a straight shooter who says things like they are or does he tend to beat around the bush? If you frequently work with the person you’re in conflict with, you may already be familiar with his style. If you rarely interact with the person, you’ll have to do some digging.
“More and more we’re working with people whom we don’t have the luxury of getting that kind of intelligence on,” says Amy Jen Su. It may be that you’re fighting with an overseas colleague whom you see in person only at annual meetings, or your conflict is with a manager in a different department who sits in another building. “It’s better to know something about the person rather than fighting in a vacuum,” Jen Su says. She suggests that you get whatever information is available. Here’s how.
Look for patterns
Whether or not you know your counterpart well, play the role of observer. How does she handle a tense discussion in a meeting? What’s the look on her face when other people are disagreeing? Does she like people to cut to the chase and lay out just the facts or does she want the complete picture with every gory detail? What have you observed about her communication style? Look for patterns in how she communicates and clues in her behavior. “People who are volatile and confrontational, for example, tend to be that way in a lot of different situations,” says Brett. Ideally you’ll observe the person over time in multiple scenarios. That may not be possible, so take what you can get. Just keep in mind that the fewer instances you see, the less likely you’ll be able to deduce an accurate pattern.
Get input from others
In addition to examining your counterpart’s behavior, you might ask a colleague or two for input. Don’t go around grilling others about him, but ask people to confirm or deny your observations. Say something like, “I noticed Jim flfl ew off the handle in that meeting. Is that typical?” or “I saw Katerina avoid engaging with Tomas when he questioned whether her figures were right. Did you see the same thing?” You can also ask more direct questions: “Can you tell me how this person typically navigates conflict?” Obviously, you have to trust the person you’re asking—you don’t want your colleague to find out you’re snooping on him.
Use this same approach to figure out cultural and office norms. If you’re dealing with a vendor based in a different country, for example, or a colleague who’s located halfway around the world, ask someone who knows that person or is familiar with the culture or office environment how conflict is typically handled. Erin Meyer suggests saying something along these lines: “Here’s how I would deal with this in my culture. How would you typically approach it?” She also recommends that you seek out “cultural bridges,” people who work in your culture and in your counterpart’s. These are often ex-pats who’ve relocated to another office or people based out of head quarters who have to work across multiple locations.
It’s not always advisable to come out and ask: “How do you like to address conflict?” That can be awkward—few people will be prepared to answer this question. Instead, share your own preferences as a way to start the conversation: “You might have noticed that I am more of a conflict seeker. I don’t shy away from arguments, and I tend to get worked up quickly.” You could also share tactful observations about what you’ve noticed about your counterpart. “Based on how you responded to Corinne’s questioning in this morning’s meeting, it seems as if you prefer to steer away from conflict. Is that right?”
You’re trying to learn what someone’s style is, not judge it. Instead of saying “We’ve got a problem here because it seems as if you don’t know how to discuss conflict,” you might ask, “What do you do in your culture when people disagree?” It’s better to ask questions than make statements, and use phrases that ask for confirmation, such as “Correct me if I’m wrong . . .” or “Do I have this right?” Meyer points out that there’s nothing wrong with showing curiosity. “People always like to be asked about themselves,” she says.
Once you learn more about the culture, use that knowledge to help you understand your situation better.
Why did he speak to me like that? What did he mean? “If you’re dealing with someone from the Netherlands and he speaks to you in a really direct way,” says Meyer, “you can interpret that behavior differently than if someone from China was short with you.” Was the person really being rude? Was he intentionally being vague and trying to hide something? Or is there a cultural reason for him to speak or behave like that?
If you come up empty-handed
If your digging doesn’t turn up adequate information, all is not lost. Although it helps, having this information is not a prerequisite to a productive conversation. Instead, prepare by playing out a few scenarios. What if she’s a conflict seeker and gets mad at me? What if he yells? What if she’s an avoider and gets upset? Or tries to leave the room?
You may even want to role-play with another coworker. If you do, Jen Su suggests you play your counterpart and your coworker acts as you. That will help you take your counterpart’s perspective and ask yourself, How would I want that person to interact with me? This will also allow you to better understand how your counterpart sees you.
Stay tuned for step 2 - Identify The Type of Conflict You're Facing - in the next part from Findjobs!