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VOL. 37 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 18, 2013

A few basics of conflict resolution

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As I write this we’ve had another week of ongoing and intense political conflict with no end or compromise in sight. I hope I won't be able to make this statement a week from now.

By definition, a compromise involves an agreement or settlement of a dispute reached by each side making concessions. At this point, I’m not sure what good if any can come from the current political standoff in Washington.

Perhaps at a minimum, we can observe how not to do things and harvest a few ideas that will help improve our personal conflict resolution skills. If you are like most business professionals, learning more about this sort of thing should come in quite handy at work and at home.

Here are a few basic observations and lessons.

See if there is a way to lower stress before seriously addressing the problem. Effective communication is inversely related to the stress levels of the parties in conflict. In my customer service training days, we taught our front-line employees this basic principle along with several specific skills for reducing tension and stress in potential conflict situations.

For example, when confronted by an angry customer, they were trained to think, “Stress first, mess second.” In other words, attempt to lower the customer’s stress before attempting to fix the real or perceived problem.

One of the primary tools for this strategy is the use of effective listening skills. It is important for employees to understand they do not have to personally agree with an angry customer, but they do need to do everything possible to make sure the angry customer feels they are being heard.

Try your best to work on compromises in private rather than in public. Public airing of grievances and demands and name-calling is likely to make everyone involved dig in more and become much more entrenched in their positions.

Most people intellectually understand that egos should not drive or be an important factor in negotiation and compromise, but this intellectual understanding has no bearing on reality. Egos matter.

Think of any compromise as a give-up to the entity involved and just not to each other. For example, when marriage partners make compromises, any perceived give-up is for the long-term health of the marriage, not just to the other spouse. In a business, any compromise is a give-up to the overall benefit of the organization, not just to each other.

Help each other maintain a reasonably palatable exit strategy from the conflict. Devastating someone in a debate and leaving them with absolutely no way to save face is a losing strategy.

At best, this might provide you with a short-term victory. However, back someone totally in a corner with no way out, and something irrational, and likely negative, will eventually come of it.

These are a few of the basics of conflict resolution. So, without taking sides, how do you think the legislative and executive branch folks are doing with these issues so far?

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.