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Why Are You So Difficult? Tips for Finding the Opportunities Within Conflict

“Why is he/she fighting me on this?”…“How come every time he/she opens his/her mouth, I get aggravated?”…”I’m right darn it! Why can’t he/she understand that?!”… I’ve heard variations of these questions posed many times over the years.  Heck, I’ve been known to ask them myself.  The answers to these, and every other conflict-related question, are actually very simple. However, putting them into practice during our daily interactions proves to be quite challenging; complicated even. 

I’m going out on a limb here, and submitting that most of you recognize ongoing, festering conflict in the workplace is damaging.  It slows productivity, kills employee morale, increases turnover, and puts a hurting on customer service.  Ongoing conflict is costly.  However, for some reason, most employers and employees sweep it under the rug.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “we don’t have conflict, we are like family.”  Really? Oh sure, we all know there is no conflict within families… 

The truth is, conflict is COMPLETELY normal and, if dealt with effectively, actually makes organizations and interpersonal relationships stronger.  Unfortunately, it seems more often than not, the “effectively” adverb is left out.

Today I am tossing a few tried and true tidbits your way.  You may not like this information.  It may make you feel uncomfortable. You may even aggressively reject it.  None-the-less I am going to hand it to you to ponder, consider, maybe even practice. I already know all of your arguments against these tips – I’ve made them myself many times.  But the truth is the truth, so here it goes:

  1. Damaging conflict is not the other person’s fault.  Stop finger pointing and start self-analyzing.
  2. Conflict is always – get that, always – the result of unmet expectations.  Your expectation, not theirs.  So when you feel the symptoms of conflict bubbling up, ask yourself:
    1. What expectation do I have that is not being met?
    2. Is my expectation realistic/fair in this situation?
    3. Has my expectation been communicated, including boundaries and consequences?
    4. Do I model the behavior I am expecting from him/her?
    5. What is my overall goal/motivation at this point?
    6. Is what I am about to do/say in alignment with my overall goals and who I want to be known as?
    7. What is the other person’s motivation for his/her actions? (Hint: if they didn’t tell you, you probably do not really know the answer to this.)
    8. Is it possible my assumptions about the other person’s motivations are incorrect?
    9. What are my choices in response to this unmet expectation? What do I consciously choose to do now?
  3. You get what you give. All humans need to feel valued, trusted, and respected.  These may look different to different personalities, but the basic need is the same. 
    1. If you want to be valued, value others.
    2. If you want to be trusted, be trust worthy, and offer trust to others. (Trusting and verifying is always a good practice as interpersonal relationships develop.)
    3. If you want respect, yep, give respect to others.

When humans successfully evaluate, investigate, and apply the above, the opportunities hidden within conflict show up, and the potentially damaging ramifications dissipate.  Effectively navigating through conflict can be as simple as that, and it works like magic.  Remember I said it is simple, NOT easy.  It takes loads of practice, trial and error, self-patience, and perseverance. However, the better YOU get at it, the more “magically” situations transform for the better.


Karen Pelot

Karen Pelot has been a full time mediator since 2007.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, and a Master of Arts in Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution.  Prior to becoming a mediator, Karen enjoyed a career as a senior leader for three separate Fortune 100 companies in the… MORE >

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