For the next four months, we’ll explore different ways to deal with conflict at work. The great news is that these tactics, once mastered, can be applied to nearly any conflict situation, so you may find yourself using them in your personal life as well as your career.
This month we’re talking about tactics to prevent conflict all together. I use a toolbox of “Energize” solutions with my clients, and these are among my favorites. The key to this prevention is positively priming the people you’re talking to so that they can see what’s in it for them before the conflict arises.
How many times do you dread walking into a situation because you know that there is potential for conflict? Whether it’s a meeting, a phone call, or a presentation, the great news is that potential for conflict is potential for growth. And if you already know that the situation could be a volatile one, you can come to the table calm and ready to prevent the conflict.
For example, if you have to change the scope of a project, and you know that several members of your team will be anxious about the change and their new responsibilities, you could preface the scope announcement with reassurance. By, doing this, you can “calm the caveman” part of your employees’ brains that may cause them to react with a fight or flight instinct.
Once people get into conflict mode, they usually miss everything else you say. You’ve no doubt witnessed this firsthand, and may even be guilty of it yourself. It’s easy to focus on the painful part of the conversation and completely tune out the rest.
The prevention approach involves taking a bit of time upfront to identify the potential issues and how you can energize your team members to rally around the new goal. Taking a few minutes to prevent the conflict beforehand certainly beats hours of cleaning up a relationship mess afterward.
The first step in preparing for the meeting is to imagine the conflict reactions that may arise within your team: e.g., “Why are we changing direction midstream? But I’ve worked so hard on my portion of this project! This change affects everything I’ve done so far! How will we have the resources to meet the new scope? My authority and my position are being threatened by this change!”
Then prepare solutions to these perceived threats: “I’m bringing on more resources because the scope of this project is going to change slightly. I know you’re up to the challenge because you’ve done A, B, and C well so far.”
Sequence is important. In your meeting offer the solutions before you deliver your content. This allows them to listen carefully, and hopefully avoid (or at least minimize) the fight or flight responses.
Prevention can be especially helpful when you anticipate conflict between groups or teams. In this case, you can often avoid conflict using the common goal tool: come up with a mutual objective beforehand that is compelling for both parties and, again, describe that before you talk about what you want each team to do.
Whether it’s identifying common goals, offering solutions, or creating positive reframes, I encourage you to play around this month with the power of prevention when it comes to conflict.