A conflict resolution conversation is one of the most critical conversation in any organisation. The success or failure of this conversation will determine how the inherent energy in a conflict will be used, and how the relationship between the involved parties will be in the future.
As I have written previously, conflicts have a lot of energy, like an overflowing river. It is upto us to build a dam and channel all this extra water (energy) into electricity? Because if left unchecked, all this extra water can cause flooding and devastation in its path. The most effective tool to prevent the flooding and use the energy in each conflict productively is the Conflict Resolution Conversation.
Below are the 5 steps I think all of us must take before/in any conflict resolution conversation:-
1. Create A Foundation of Trust and Respect among all involved parties, which is essential for any productive conversation to happen. This is more like a step 0, as trust is like oxygen in a conversation.
Take steps to apologise or forgive for any past behaviour, and prepare a clean slate by setting any prejudices aside. This will help create an environment of trust and mutual respect. Work together as partners, and not adversaries, as you set about resolving the conflict.
2. Decide Ground Rules for the conversation before you start. These rules will allow you to proceed amicably in the face of differences and disagreements. They can include what is the common goal both parties are seeking, how would you treat each other, and what do you do if you can’t agree on a common solution?
Having such ground rules will assist both parties to keep their egos in check and keep the focus on a mutually beneficial solution. Even in the case of an unproductive conversation, these rules will leave you with respect and understanding for the other person’s position, rather than with resentment and cynicism.
3. Listen. The freedom to speak your mind includes a duty to listen and understand the other person’s perspective. Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes to see the situation from his point of view. Acknowledge the validity of the different perspectives without making any one perspective right or wrong.
Walk into the conversation with an empathetic attitude and care for the other party’s concerns. Understand that the conversation is not productive unless the concerns of both parties are met. If you work to address what the other person cares about, you create the possibility of a win-win result which might be even better than what you initially wanted.
“Courtesy towards opponents and eagerness to understand their viewpoint is the ABC of non-violence.” – Mahatma Gandhi
4. Differentiate Your Positions from your Interests – Ask yourself what do you really desire? And why? Let go of your attachment to your position and seek to discover yours and others’ common desires. Asking the question “why” a couple of times can help you do that.
This will help you understand the other person better and create space for collaboration and flexibility. Understanding the concerns of each other will turn you into partners rather than adversaries, and it opens up the possibility of making 2 + 2 = 5 happen.
5. Prepare your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiable Agreement) – The BATNA is your lower boundary, the minimum you are willing to get out of the conversation. Knowing your BATNA increases your negotiating power.
When you enter a conversation knowing your BATNA, that gives you assurance and confidence. If nothing else works, you walk out with your BATNA.
To sum it up, doing this preparation before any conflict resolution conversation prevents us from reacting impulsively when the going gets tough. Conflicts are a natural order of life, and being prepared will allow us to turn them into an opportunity to build a strong foundation (relationship) not just for immediate but also long term results.
It is also important to note that the above steps do not guarantee a successful conversation, or the results we desire. But they will equip us to deal with conflicts with steady and not shaky hands, which is always a good skill to have.