If you want to improve your influence in an organization, you need to avoid getting caught up with conflict and drama in the office. Being mired in conflict draws your focus away from your responsibilities, and more importantly, your goal to become more influential. While you may do a good job of avoiding conflict, your co-workers may try to pull you into theirs. In that case, you can actually add value (see previous post link here) by helping others navigate through the conflict.
We’ve taken these ideas from the book Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Uri. The focus of the book is on negotiating, but the framework outline in the book is applicable to navigating conflict. We’ll discuss how to leverage two of the strategies for conflict management: separate the people from the problem and focusing on interests, not positions. Today’s post will cover the first strategy: separating people from the problem.
Most conflict is driven by differences in personalities, differing beliefs, backgrounds, and all the other characteristic that make us unique. Conflict arises just about everywhere—at home, work, or even at the mall. Those who can navigate it effectively will have a distinct advantage. One of the ways you can manage the conflict is by separating the people from the problem. Most people have a tendency to state issues or problems in a way that can sound like a personal attack on someone else. For example, how many times have you heard a co-worker complain about their supervisor because the supervisor sent back a work product for more revisions? Rather than focusing on what needs to be improved, the co-worker blames the supervisor for being critical and takes little blame himself or herself. Next time you are confronted with this type dialogue, try reframing the problem in a way that takes the focus off the people (in this case the supervisor). Here is an example of what that may look like:
Jim: I’m sick of Mike constantly making changes to my work. My write-ups are always well written, but he insists on making edits to show me who’s in charge.
You: It sounds like you are frustrated when you get work back for revisions. Have you thought about talking to Mike about it?
Jim. Why bother? He’s totally unreasonable and I won’t get anywhere doing that.
You: If you have a conversation with him about his writing or style preferences, you may be able to avoid some of the frustration you feel when you get the write-ups back with edits.
Jim: I’ll give it try, just to show you how unreasonable Mike will be.
In this example, Jim is still a bit stuck, but by you framing the problem or issue away from Mike, you’re able to discuss a possible solution. If you agreed with Jim that Mike was unreasonable, you are really just allowing the conflict to spiral and feeding Jim’s anger. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you are employing the strategy to separate the people from the problem:
- Allow the person (people) to vent. Part of managing conflict is to let the person get their thoughts and feelings out. Let them do that before you redirect or reframe the problem.
- Acknowledge the person’s perceptions. In our example, you acknowledged that Jim was frustrated when his work comes back with edits. If you don’t acknowledge the person’s perspective, the person will not likely listen to your advice.
- Keep reframing the problem away from the object of the person’s conflict or anger. This will help you to focus on the solution rather than continuing to talk about the other person.
- Don’t blame the other person for the Jim is blaming Mike returning his work without any acknowledgment that, as the supervisor, Mike is entitled to send back the work for revisions.
In the next post, we will use our example to illustrate the 2nd strategy: to focus on interests, rather than positions.