Conflict is full of "F words," aside from the ones you might be thinking of. There is a lot of feeling involved in conflict as well as a natural reaction to fight or flee. Sometimes, people may freeze during a conflict and not know what to say.
The way to deal with all these F words is to just F 'em back. It turns out there are four strategies to handle conflict that start with the letter F.
Sometimes it makes sense to fight. I don’t mean fight until you crush the other. Rather, fight for your point of view in a professional way. To do this, follow these steps to support your position:
- The data/experience I have is ____
- What this data means to me is ____
- The conclusions I draw from this data and my experience are ____
- Therefore, I think the right idea/solution/approach is ____
To fight effectively, fill in the blanks with your information and lay out your thinking to the other party using this type of logical progression. Explain your point of view, openly and directly. This takes a potentially hostile situation and keeps it an open exchange of points of view. Does this mean the other person will agree with you? Not necessarily. However, this approach gives you the possibility of convincing others of your point of view through a constructive dialog.
Be supportive of another’s point of view and build the relationship. A relationship is like a bank account: You're either building it up by supporting each other or taking away from it by asking for favors, criticizing or being self-centered. Remember the expression “pick your battles"? You don’t want to use your relationship capital when it's not worth it.
There are two potential problems to look out for with this F word. Some people are always giving in to keep the relationship positive. They need to learn to fight more. Others always need to win or get an apology for transgressions. They need to learn how put the other person first and be a friend.
Facing conflict often happens imperfectly, with unplanned times and unplanned words. The steps for facing a conflict are:
- Share the issue and its impact with the other person.
- Once the issue is on the table, move the conversation past the problem and into the vision of a future solution.
- Talk about what can you can each do to reach the vision.
- Commit to take action.
Granted, this is a rational model for irrational moments. It might not go exactly like this, but it is helpful to have a framework to follow when emotions are flaring.
Sometimes it makes sense to walk away. You don’t want to waste time or burn relationship capital on a minor issue. This is different than "Friend." Use "Forget" when the whole issue is just not important, to you or them.
The worst thing to do is to forget the issue when it’s important to you but you're scared of the conflict. This is a recipe for being a doormat. Be wary of these excuses:
- This person is my boss, so I can’t confront him.
- I am not good at conflict.
- I might get too upset.
- I might hurt her feelings.
- He's not worth it. I don’t need him that much.
- It’s not a big deal.
Which F word to use
All of these F words are effective. The challenge is using the right one at the right time. Choose based on how important the issue is.
- Fight when something is important to you but not so important to the other party. Fight openly and respectfully to get what you want.
- Friend if the issue is important to the other person, but not you. Build the relationship by supporting their decision.
- Face when the problem is really important to both of you. It is best to face the problem head on.
- Forget if the issue is not important to either of you. Just let it go.
The next time you get into conflict, use the right F word to get through it. If you do, you’ll address the important issues and let the unimportant ones pass like water off a duck’s back.
OPEN Cardmember Lawrence Polsky helps executive teams succeed. He is Managing Partner of PeopleNRG in Princeton, New Jersey, and has traveled the world training and advising leaders in since 1999. He is co-author of Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution, Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change and Say YES! to Change.