Confrontation is typically viewed in a negative light. Many of us associate confrontations with the dramatised versions we see on TV and social media that are overflowing with insults and threats. For most of us, conflict may take days - even years - to truly surface and while it may not be as dramatic it can be deeply uncomfortable.
Conflict is a part of life and depending on how you approach it, conflict can also serve as an opportunity to open up dialogue. The majority of people do not particularly like conflict and many of us go out of our way to avoid it. Avoiding conflict can be even more detrimental than having a confrontation as it denies us the opportunity to express ourselves and may deny others the opportunity to alter their behaviour. It is especially important for leaders to become adept at conflict resolution.
Ideally conversations will happen before they manifest as confrontations. However, more often than not we will find ourselves experiencing conflict with someone. Even if this is the case the confrontation can still be redirected into conversation.
Why conversation over confrontation? When in a fight people tend to take on a ‘win/lose’ mentality. When people are focused on winning they are less likely to be receptive to feedback, open to resolution or trying to come to an agreement. This is why it is crucial to transform a confrontation into a conversation to achieve the best outcome possible for both parties.
Here are 5 steps for turning confrontation into conversation:
1. Increase Your Internal Awareness
If you are not actively engaged in a face to face conflict you have the opportunity to increase your own awareness on the issue before confronting someone or being confronted. Doing so will allow you to better express yourself and empathise with the other person. Even in the time following a confrontation there is the opportunity to increase your internal awareness on the issues and readdress them.
When you do find yourself in a face to face conflict, begin by acknowledging the frustration the other person is expressing. This does not mean you have to agree with them. You can disagree with them but still show empathy. Even if they are asking for something that you cannot deliver you can acknowledge them and move them towards discussing alternatives. Sometimes people just need to be heard and acknowledged.
3. Ask Questions
Questions are a great way to explore the underlying issues causing a conflict and move away from confrontation and towards conversation. Begin by asking an open-ended question. Ensure you are asking with sincerity rather than from your own place of attack/defend. This will make the other person stop and think and can help them move out of an aggressive, defensive, confrontational state. By asking with genuine interest in the other person and their response you are much more likely to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.
4. Pay Attention to Your Body Language
More than 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Pay attention to your tone of voice and ensure that your body language looks receptive rather than defensive. Having your words directed at de-escalating the conflict is not enough - your body language has to match.
5. Provide Feedback
If you have had a confrontation with someone and succeeded in identifying issues to be worked on be sure to acknowledge them positively when they change their behaviour. If the issue persists be sure to acknowledge it in a timely manner. The phase following a confrontation can be quite revealing. For example, if the person is an employee and they fail to change their behaviour or address the issue at hand it may become apparent that they are not a fit for your organisation.
Leaders who embrace these steps become very adept at dealing with confrontation and winning respect in the process. Make no mistake, leaders who are great at conflict-resolution dislike confronting people as much as anyone else but have learned to pick and choose their battles, often anticipating conflicts before they even materialise. For example, a leader who has issues with one of their employee’s performance may wisely opt to deal with these issues as they arise rather than waiting for the problem to spread.
The next time you are in a situation where there is the potential for conflict try to open up the dialogue rather than avoid discussion. This will likely lead to much better results and prevent confrontations down the line.