Chairs and Directors Follow Up

May 23, 2024

By: Betty SnyderOmbuds

Workplace conflict is a significant stressor that can impact many areas of our lives. It has been known to interfere significantly with productivity and morale, and it can create a toxic environment that hinders innovation and productivity. Although we seem to engage in difficult conversations on a regular basis, we often struggle to find the right tools to manage these conversations constructively.  An uninformed approach to difficult conversations can cause significant damage in both personal and professional relationships and can ultimately escalate conflict.  Here are a few tips and strategies that can help you to de-escalate conflict and navigate difficult conversations effectively:

  1. Practice self-awareness before, during and after the conversation. Before entering a conversation ask yourself if you are in the best headspace to engage. Know what your triggers are and plan accordingly. You want to show up for these conversations being your wise, calm, and curious self, rather than entering the conversation filled with judgment, assumptions, and defensiveness.  Your brain cannot be curious and furious at the same time.
  2. Have a toolkit for regulating your emotions before, during and after these conversations.  Consider taking a break, counting backwards from 100, engaging in mindfulness practices such as deep breathing, listen to music, or talk to a friend to help you deescalate.
  3. Check your purpose and align your communication style accordingly.  If your purpose is to have a learning conversation that will foster trust, creative problem solving and honor the relationship, adjust your behavior accordingly.  Be mindful of words or reactions that you know will escalate the conflict and consider communicating in a way that the other person feels heard, respected, and validated.
  4. Consider that most conflicts are not about what the presenting issue is. Consider their perspective and what might be triggering them. In my experience as a mediator, I find that what conflict most often about is a violation of needs — what the person really wants is for those needs to be honored. If a person is experiencing disrespect, a lack of inclusion or fairness, challenges to their values, role, or identity, for example, attending to those needs and concerns might solve the issue.
  5. Invest your time in upskilling in the area of conflict engagement. I would be happy to provide training in this area. There are many resources out there that provide many useful tools as well. Here are a few books that I recommend:

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks, PhD

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser

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