It is rare that you will escape conflict in any relationship, and this is true of our work life as well.
One must possess the right skills and practice the right behaviours to navigate a critical conversation and resolve conflict effectively. In this lesson, we enumerate the behaviours that will aid you to resolve most conflicts.
This lesson is in a video format
We recognise that some participants prefer reading to listening. If you are one of them, then you can access a transcript of the lesson by clicking on the View Transcript button below the video.
It’s not always the best response, but assertiveness is mostly the ideal response to conflict.
As we had seen in the synopsis of the ‘Assertiveness Explored’ course, there is a time for aggression and passivity. However, both these styles should be used sparingly, judiciously and proactively. Assertiveness most often allows for the best possible outcomes for all concerned.
However, if you are to practice the art of Assertiveness, you must first master four critical behaviours that will assist you in such situations.
Here, in a nutshell, are the four behaviours.
Here’s a small experiment: People strongly disagree with your view of who should be the Prime Minister/ President of this country. Choose how, in real life, you would respond to this situation, from the options provided:
|a. Accept that their opinion counts and genuinely try and understand why they feel so.||That’s the ideal option to choose. Your choice displays that you respect people and their opinions, even if these are contrary to yours. The choices you make in conflict situations are critical to dealing with these situations assertively, rather than aggressively or passively.
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|b. Reject them outright. Brand them as being ignorant.||That’s not a good response to the situation. People may hold an opinion that contradicts yours, but aren’t they entitled to their opinion? Respect for people and their opinions is critical to dealing with situations assertively, rather than aggressively or passively, as we will explore in this lesson.
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|c. Refuse to engage with them. It is people like them that are ruining this great country.||That’s not a good response to the situation.
They may hold an opinion that contradicts yours, but aren’t they entitled to their opinion? Respect for people and their opinions is critical to dealing with situations assertively, rather than aggressively or passively, as we will explore in this lesson.
Now, prudence may demand that you do not engage in a dialogue with people on their political beliefs in certain situations. However, one mustn’t avoid engaging with such people always, as well.
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Being assertive starts with respect – for people, including for yourself.
People are entitled to their views and opinions no matter how controversial or how contrary they are to yours. If you do not believe in and respect plurality of opinions and in people’s free will and rights, you will be one of two things:
a. the tyrant browbeating people into submission, or to adopt your ways – this is aggression, or
b. the victim, cribbing about the unfair, ignorant and immoral world that must be shunned – This is passivity
People also have rights, including their right to be wrong! You do not have to buy into their incorrect opinions – and you are well within your rights to point out the inaccuracies in their viewpoint – but you cannot deny people the right to have an opinion. People also have rights that laws, society, morality and just plain decency bestow upon them. You cannot deny them these rights.
Lastly, respect every human’s need to be treated with dignity and respect. Faced with a conflict situation, asserting yourself is never to be mistaken with seeking to dominate proceedings, or exploiting an advantage. These are trade-mark aggressive behaviours. Remember, behaviour generally begets similar behaviour. It’s a two-way street – if you want your views, opinions and rights respected, it’s only fair you extend that respect to others.
Similarly, respect your own needs, rights and feelings. Do not deny or disregard these. Ignoring your own needs and rights is passivity. And passivity is fine if chosen proactively, but never be a doormat and allow people to walk all over you.
*As these clips that you viewed demonstrated, empathy is the ability to recognise what the other person is experiencing as seen from their point of view or reference. It is the capacity to place yourself and see things from their perspective, in addition to being cognizant of yours.
Effectively resolving a conflict or conducting a critical conversation requires you to genuinely seek to see things from the other person’s perspective as well. There is no substitute for this. Devoid of this, you will only be seeking to address your own emotions or drive your agenda. That’s aggression.
Now, when in the throes of an emotionally charged conversation, it’s not easy to show compassion, suspend judgement, set aside ego, check emotions and then, try to understand others’ perceptions. Yet, effective management and resolution of critical conversations require you to practice these very behaviours. The good news is that it’s entirely possible to master this
art with a little self-awareness and practice.
In communication, it is not your intention but the outcome of your communication that matters.
You may not have meant to hurt someone, yet if your words and actions have caused hurt, then your communication is sub-par. And if your words did cause hurt, it will subvert – rather than aid – the conflict resolution process.
Sensitivity concerns itself with ensuring that our message is delivered and thus received in the best possible way or time. So, phrase your communication in a way that leads to minimal, if not prevents, hurt feelings. The goal is to express yourself with clarity while respecting the sensitivity and opinions of others, and where possible, with good timing. It means ensuring that the people we are communicating with understand our point of view without feeling upset, belittled or let down.
Boss: “You always make such mistakes.”
Subordinate: “What do you mean by ‘always’? It’s happened like twice out of, what, a hundred odd times?”
Boss: “Okay, so I didn’t mean that literally.”
Subordinate: “I’d prefer if you could be more specific with your feedback.”
Specificity is the opposite of generalisations and vagueness.
“You always do this” or “You never do this” constitute generalisations. Generalising refers to making broad or general statements about something or someone by drawing inferences from a single case or a small number of cases. “What do you mean by always or never?” will be the anguished response to your generalisation. Th
is can lead the conversation on a tangent and the conversation going downhill from there on. You are better off saying “I observed you on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday last week yelling at your team members”. It’s specific and, provided your observations are true, cannot be argued with.
Also, being vague or not providing sufficient detail subverts your conflict resolution efforts. *“I want you to send me these details as soon as possible” is vague. When exactly is “as soon as possible?” You might have meant ‘right now’. The other person might have understood that to mean the earliest possible time that they can devote to this task. Their interpretation of your vague statement can lead to an escalation of the issue. You are better off saying “Please send me this document by five p.m. today” which is specific.
Bottom line: Be specific. Use descriptive language when communicating.
Remember, assertiveness is taking care of your own and the other’s needs, feelings and rights. Absent the four behaviours that we have enumerated in this lesson, namely, Respect, Empathy, Sensitivity and Specificity it will be virtually impossible for you to manage a critical conversation or a conflict assertively.
In subsequent lessons, we will explore how to use these four behaviours in various critical conversations like when providing feedback, communicating when hurt, denying a request and handling criticisms.
For now, please take the quiz associated with this lesson.