In my previous post, I shared a few suggestions on how to help bridge the gap between communication goals and outcomes, i.e. the speaker’s intentions and the listener’s perception. Delivering the right words, at the right pace, in the right tone of voice, can go a long way towards engaging your audience and keeping them open to whatever you may have to say, as can eye-to-eye contact and the right body language.
Unfortunately, though, no tactic comes with a 100% guarantee. Miscommunications happen, which brings us to Part 2 of our discussion:
The role of communication in conflict resolution
There’s one tactic that many people believe to be very effective: conflict avoidance. If that’s your chosen tactic, stop right there! Conflict avoidance does not resolve conflict. On the contrary, it can be the source of grudges that eventually grow arms and legs and fester until they can no longer be contained, the result of which is not usually pretty.
In my opinion, resolution is the way to go – both within and beyond your practice – and if there’s one thing that’s fundamental to resolution, it’s giving up the need to be right. That’s right. You need to give it up! Resolving a conflict isn’t about you being right and the other person being wrong. It’s about both parties reaching a mutual understanding.
Having learned this the hard way, I decided to start approaching conflict resolution in a more collaborative manner, and it paid off. What follows are a few communication do’s and don’ts to help you resolve those inevitable conflicts with the greatest ease possible.
Take a step back and ask yourself, “is there something I could have done differently?” This doesn’t mean a full admission of guilt; it simply means being open to the other person’s perspective. Get curious. Ask questions. You’ll be amazed how quickly a conflict can be resolved by asking, “if this situation were to arise again, what would be something you’d want me to do differently?”
I like to initiate conflict resolution within 24 to 48 hours, especially for clients. Why the rush? Because the longer you wait to address a complaint, the more frustrated the complainant will become, the less important they’ll feel, and the faster they’ll leave your practice.
Try and keep touchpoints to a minimum. For me, the sweet spot is two touchpoints. If a client has to repeat his story to several individuals in your practice, he’s going to become more and more agitated with every telling. So skip the middlemen and take the complaint directly to whoever has the power to resolve it.
Think beyond the bill
Bad service is bad service, even when it’s free, so don’t assume you can address every complaint with financial compensation. Your clients want to feel heard, so listen and again, ask questions. For example: “What outcome would you like to see as a result of this conversation, just so that I can get clarity?” Before you enquire, make sure you can do so with sincerity. A confrontational tone won’t get you anywhere.
If you’re about to embark on a conversation that leaves you feeling extremely uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say so. By fessing up, you’re simply acknowledging yourself to be human. If, for example, you need to have a conversation with an employee regarding personal hygiene, begin by saying, “this is an uncomfortable conversation to have and I hope you know it’s coming from a good place.” Similarly, if you need to discuss a conflict with someone who’s your professional senior, admit you’re feeling nervous right from the outset.
Don’t make assumptions
More often than not, the subject of a complaint isn’t the entire story. It’s simply the part that the complainant has chosen to hang his hat on. Before jumping to a resolution, ask what you could have done differently. Even better, elude to maintaining the relationship by asking what you can do differently in the future in order to ensure they don’t have the same experience again.
Avoid the blame game
Remember what I said earlier about competition? This isn’t about winning. If somebody blames you for your part in the conflict, don’t respond by blaming them for their role. Stay focused on the do’s above and keep aiming for a peaceful resolution.
Take it slow
I mentioned this in my previous post. It’s even more important here. To convey a genuine interest in reaching a resolution, you need to demonstrate that it’s high on your priority list. Rushing through the conversation implies that the next thing on your list is more important, so allow yourself a sufficient window of time.
Think before you react
When things get heated, all of us our prone to knee-jerk reactions, and nothing brings the heat on quite like conflict. If you feel the temperature rising, take a step back and make sure your thoughts are clear and measured before you respond.
Dodge the weeds
By weeds, I’m referring to unnecessary details. When people are feeling confronted, they often deflect by asking for specific examples of their misconduct. Stay focused on what’s important and keep it high level. Say, for example, you’re addressing tardiness with a habitually late employee who responds by saying: “What do you mean I was late three times last week? Sally is late all of the time! Is she being reprimanded, too?” Keep your response on point by replying: “This isn’t about Sally; this is about your attendance.” In other words, don’t get sucked into the weeds.
Prepare to be unprepared
Much time can be wasted anticipating how a conversation is going to go. It rarely works out that way. So don’t waste your energy thinking about what he’s going to say in response to what you have to say, and what you’re going to say when he responds. Instead, harvest that energy to have a clear mental grasp of the points you want to address before the conversation is over.
Conflict – a look on the bright side
While seeking out conflict is never a smart move, it’s worth noting that it does present an opportunity to strengthen relationships. In fact, I’ve had previously disgruntled clients follow me from one practice to the next on account of my having put in the effort to resolve a conflict in the past.
So give some of these communication do’s and don’t’s a try and see what unfolds. I’m optimistic that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.