The Next Step in Managing Conflict Effectively
Last month’s newsletter focused on the key element for managing conflict effectively: listening and paraphrasing back what you heard the other person say. Once you understand the issue, the next step is to determine if it is a relationship issue or a topic issue. In other words, has something occurred to cause a breakdown in the relationship, or is it simply a matter of different thoughts, opinions, needs, concerns or desires over some topic, or is it a combination of both a topic and a relationship issue?
If it is simply a topic issue, then it can be resolved by understanding what the other person’s real needs, concerns or desires are and finding a solution that will best meet both of your needs. If it is a relationship issue, then it may require much more effort. It may be necessary to apologize or to engage in behavior that will put deposits into the other person’s “emotional bank account,” a term coined by Dr. Stephen Covey. They key again here is to really understand the other person’s needs, concerns or desires and determine if you are willing to meet them in order to preserve the relationship.
If it is both a relationship and a topic issue, it’s best to try and resolve the relationship first, otherwise additional topic issues may keep surfacing. This is because the other person isn’t really upset about the topic. Instead it’s something in the relationship, but it keeps surfacing as topics. For example, a wife doesn’t blow up at her husband because he left the toilet seat up. There’s something else in the relationship that is bothering her, such as feeling taken for granted. The toilet seat is just a convenient way to express frustration rather than talking about her dissatisfaction in the relationship.
It may not be easy to sift out whether it is just a topic issue or if there is really an underlying relationship issue unless you truly listen and seek to understand what the other person is experiencing and feeling by paraphrasing what you have heard and asking clarifying questions. In relationships that matter to you, ask yourself, “Is it more important to be right or to preserve the relationship?”
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” – Henry Winkler
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life-long quest of the wise.” – Shannon L. Alder