Many conflicts begin with small irritations that grow into major blow-ups. This often happens because of the mindset of the “combatants.” As a conflict builds and you begin the process of confronting the issue, I have found that you really only have two options. You can choose to prove that your perspective is RIGHT, or you can choose to RESOLVE the conflict.
The person who chooses to be RIGHT:
His (or Her)
They focus on being heard rather than on hearing. By contrast, the person who chooses to Submarine Leadership RESOLVE the conflict:
Respects the other person
Engages in productive dialogue
Seeks to understand the other person
Voices their concerns, and
Evaluates possible solutions.
They focus on understanding the other person first. As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, they “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
I’ll illustrate with a story from my experience.
My wife and I met while I served as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy and she worked as a school teacher in Charleston, South Carolina. We got married as my naval commitment ended and my civilian career began. Three days after our wedding, we moved from South Carolina to New Jersey. We both felt the excitement and anticipation of our new life together.
In the process of moving the last pieces of clothing from my closet to the vehicle we were driving to New Jersey, we hit the first major conflict of our married life. I wanted the clothes on the right side of the vehicle. She wanted them on the left side. As we made alternating trips from the closet to the car, both of us rearranged the items in the vehicle every time we returned to it. I placed my load of clothes on the right side. Then I moved everything from the left to the right in a neat stack. She did the same except that she placed everything on the left side. As this process continued for three for four trips between the closet and the car, we each became increasingly agitated. When we passed in the apartment hallway, I think we actually glared at each other a bit. She thought I had lost my mind, and I thought the same of her.
Eventually, the showdown came as we met at the closet in the bedroom. There we stood, toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose, ready to “have it out.” We needed to settle this issue, and we both thought that we were “right.” In that moment of near explosion, with emotions high over this critical issue in our lives together, I walked away to stop myself from yelling at my new wife. With about 30 or 45 seconds of separation, we both realized how truly ridiculous the situation had become. We decided that working to RESOLVE the conflict took priority over either of us being RIGHT.
That experience — as silly as it sounds eighteen years later — opened the door for a great dialogue about what we both thought and felt in that moment of conflict. Our choice to find the common ground in our perceptions kept the situation from spiraling totally out-of-control.
This same process happens in work teams every day. One co-worker says or does something that irritates another. A supervisor forgets to notify people of a schedule change. Or any number of other frustrations that happen when people work together. Each person formulates their perception of what happened, what the other person intended or thought, and how they should “solve” the problem. Then the two parties engage in a “discussion” with both people defending their positions in an effort to be RIGHT. As each of them tries to prove how RIGHT they are, the conflict intensifies. The end often comes with one or both parties angry to the point that they withdraw out of a sense of hopelessness or frustration. As both of them seek to “win” the argument, both of them lose.
By itself, a resolution mindset will not resolve all conflicts. Many other skills also come into play. However, the mindset we take as we approach the other person plays a critical role in the process. Great team members, great leaders, and great communicators make the choice to RESOLVE issues instead of insisting that they are RIGHT.
The next time you find yourself on the brink of a conflict, I encourage you to RESOLVE the conflict rather than to insist on being RIGHT.
Guy Harris specializes in team conflict resolution. He is the president and owner of Principle Driven Consulting (http://www.principledriven.com). He helps organizations build trust, reduce conflict, and get results.