The Conscious communication process is designed to uncover all the issues, agree on outcomes and ways to move forward. I suggest that you share this process with your team so they know that when there is a conflict, they have a clear process to follow. Even as you enter into a conflict situation, you could share the process with the person and let them know that this is what you will be following and get their agreement to do the same.
1. Prepare yourself – This is about state management. The difference between a reaction and a response is the time and space you put in between the ‘S’ and the ‘R’ (thought)! Consider:
- Are you OK with this conflict/disagreement?
- What are you thinking and feeling (tune into your physical symptoms of fight and flight – reacting at this point will be destructive)?
- What meaning are you making of this? S + T = R
- Are you prepared to deal with this in a constructive way now, or do you need more time to prepare? Do not feel pressured to react now.
2. Notice and name it – Check for agreement that there is a disagreement or conflict! (Be sure that it is not just you!) – “I have noticed that … I’d like to talk about it.”
Agree on a process for dealing with the disagreement: “Should we discuss it now, or later – where would you like to do this?”
Start with the facts, it is less likely to make the other person feel defensive if you are dealing with the facts. It is also less judgmental. You will need to also discuss the meaning you are giving it and in so doing explain why it is an issue for you. At this stage, if there is agreement that you have an issue, then it is worth stating that you are willing to discuss it until you are both satisfied it is resolved. This is an outcome that is not only achievable but gives the other person an assurance that you value the relationship.
3. Paint the picture – Understand your different perspectives by:
- Taking turns to speak your truth. Talk about:
- The issue – what happened objectively – start with the facts. Clarify what are assumptions and what are facts – theirs and your own (if it is a performance management issue – it is likely to be a conflict of expectations, resulting from a mismatch in what is expected of the person and assumptions about their ability to do the job and what is motivating their poor performance.)
- How it is affecting you: How you feel, how it affects your work together
- Your needs and interests
- Listen up – don’t load up!
- Respect each other’s interests. Reflect back your understanding of what they said until they feel heard.
- Ask non-judgmental questions to clarify points you are confused about or misunderstandings.
- Identify the key points/issues of agreement and difference
- Focus on the issue – not the person.
4. Own your part – Each person takes a turn of owning his or her part in the issue, disagreement or conflict.
- Each responds to the assumption/issue/criticism made.
- Apologies may be appropriate and all that is needed at this point for some issues. Especially if there has been a misunderstanding or mistake made.
5. Agree on the outcomes – Aim for mutual purpose – why talk in the first place? Sometimes the focus is on strategies rather than purpose or outcomes – strategies are often the source of conflict so it helps to lift the focus to the outcome that you can both accept that is all encompassing. Keep asking what they hope to achieve by wanting that – or doing that… until you get to an outcome rather than a strategy. This opens the conversation to looking for 3rd alternatives when you can ask: “how else can we achieve that outcome so that all our needs are met?”
This is about setting goals or objectives that are achievable regardless of the conflict outcome. Separate your personal worth from the outcome.
6. Moving forward – Brain storm possible solutions, suspending judgement and thinking outside the box.
- For the issues that remain unresolved, together, identify realistic and practical alternatives or solutions to the disagreement/conflict that will be of mutual benefit.
- Agree on an action, and who is to do what by when.
- Aim for progress – not perfection
7. Follow-up – Agree to follow-up and review how things are – How did we go and how do we feel?
Download the description of the process, “Conscious communication”, and practice this in the next difficult conversation you have. Share how you went in the Forum.