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Handling conflict respectfully

By Sam Di Sano on 4 March 2019NSWstaffroomLeadershipWellbeing

How do you feel when someone disagrees with you? Attacked? Offended? Do you just want to bash out an immediate email response, pick up the phone or march right over to them and give them a piece of your mind? Or do you shrink into your cave and withdraw, deflated by someone else posing a different perspective to yours? How do you feel when someone not only disagrees with you but also makes negative or derogatory comments about your position? When people disagree with us our natural tendency is to become defensive, which, if not checked, can be destructive for both parties. So - one of the skills we need to master is how to properly manage disagreement and conflict and it doesn’t always have to be negative.

Tip 1. Disagree with respect and consideration

When you don’t agree with a point of view, consider the perspective of the person who has proposed it. No matter what, don’t say or do anything in response unless you lace it with plenty of respect and humility. The benefits:

  • People will be more open to your point of view;
  • Respect for you will grow;
  • People will be more willing to share their opinions in the future;
  • You will appear more professional and mature;
  • You will feel better about yourself;
  • Your emotions are less likely to turn negative;
  • You will have more productive conversations.

On the other hand, a response which lacks humility and respect will likely result in one or more of these unwanted outcomes:

  • You offend and hurt others;
  • You will be viewed as being just interested in your own point of view;
  • You run the risk of damaging a relationship;
  • If you end up being wrong, you appear ill-informed;
  • Your attitude will turn negative because your emotions are negative;
  • People will be less supportive of your ideas, your decisions, your points of view and ultimately of you in general.

Tip 2. Pick your battles

Try drawing things into four quadrants - this works for me in trying to consider if I am going to get involved in something that comes across my table:

  1. Unimportant and unnecessary;
  2. Unimportant but necessary;
  3. Important but unnecessary;
  4. Important and necessary.

Now looking at the above four, where would you rather spend your precious time?

Tip 3. Protect your relationships

The end result of every professional discussion is not necessarily to come out of it on the same side all the time. That's largely impossible - and it denies the reality that some churning of the stomach, or a little tension or professional disagreement is actually healthy and can be productive. It is after all an emotion and emotionally charged responses are always going to lead you to some form of action which will either be productive and profitable or ineffective and destructive. Stay away from the latter - read the signs; listen to your heart and your head and above all, handle yourself with some dignity. Our experience of life leads us all along a different path and that often determines our responses and reactions.

Finally, being right doesn’t always mean the other person is wrong, and being right all the time - well that can lead to a pretty lonely existence. Engage in some healthy habits and tricks to avoid off the cuff responses that are not thought out. Try some of these:

  • Turn off your notifications so you don’t trick your brain into believing a received email requires an immediate response;
  • Turn off overnight notifications so you don’t read emails until the next morning when you are generally more alert and level headed;
  • Be mindful of the signals your body gives off - the clenched fists; crossed arms; furrowed brow and scowling lips;
  • If you feel the need to respond by email, draft a response and send it to yourself first or keep it in your draft folder for a while;
  • Take note of what you have read or heard and go see the other party in person or pick up the phone for a chat.

Also, keep in mind that disagreeing can take on many different forms. In addition to heated discussions or arguments, it could be as simple as giving people feedback on something they have done, ignoring a point they have made, or even showing disapproval through your body language.

Let me also encourage you to avoid expressing your disagreement through email or text messages. Invariably it complicates matters and causes secondary conflict. If you value your relationships, schedule a time to discuss opposing points of view in person. If that is not possible, then discuss them over the phone.

Remember that we are not always going to agree with each other, but we can sure be proud of the way we handled ourselves during a disagreement. Disagreement is inevitable. Handle yours tactfully; show respect and humility, listen patiently, don’t pre-judge and above all, protect your relationships.

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