Conflict management for sensitive people. That sounds a bit like a paradox, right?
Conflict is intense and, by definition, confrontational. The last thing a sensitive person wants is to partake in any situation that entails stomping over feelings and triggering negative emotions.
But as we all know, conflict is an unavoidable part of being human.
It’s not realistic to say that you’ll never have a tiff with your partner, or have a disagreement with your friend, or get into an argument with your colleagues.
Even when we choose our battles, conflict sometimes has a way of showing up to the party unannounced.
As such, one of the core social strategies we’ll need in our Explearning toolkit is conflict management and conflict mediation.
After all, there are effective ways to manage conflict, ways that mitigate the intensity and improve the outcome.
And on the flip side, there are definitely some bad ways to manage conflict, ways that can lead to things getting worse, so we’ll want to make sure we avoid those as well.
Ready to neutralize your next conflict? Let’s get into it.
Let’s start with a definition of conflict in the context of communication so that we’re on the same page.
In their book, Interpersonal Conflict, Hocker and Wilmot (1985) define conflict as “the interaction of interdependent people who perceive incompatible goals and interference from each other in achieving those goals.”
The most important aspect of conflict is that it is rooted in social interaction. Conflict is created and prolonged through our behaviors, words, and reactions.
Knowing that, the way best way (and in some cases the only way) to resolve conflict, is through communication.
So let’s jump into the strategies:
(1) Don’t play the blame game
It’s as it sounds. Don’t blame the person for what they did or didn’t do.
The point of conflict management is to ultimately arrive at a resolution. And guess what pointing fingers does? It makes things worse. It puts people on the defensive. It gets us further away from resolving the core issues – the point of contention that started the conflict in the first place.
What should you do instead?
Start by using “I” language and “we” language rather than “you” language.
“You” language is combative. It feels like you are attacking and blaming the person. Think about it for a second. Do you like hearing someone say: “you did this” and “you did that”?
By contrast, “we” language is collaborative. It suggests we all share the blame (which is often the case) and it says we’re going to work together to fix things.
That feels good, doesn’t it?
So we’re going for a collaborative vibe here.
And if you need to blame a single person, fine. Go ahead. Blame yourself. That shows you’re taking ownership over the issue and holding yourself accountable. It will immediately comfort the other party and guide the conversation toward finding a solution.
Remember, determining who caused what is far less important than making sure it doesn’t happen again.
(2) Keep emotions out of it
When you’re entering conflict management mode, be sure to keep tense highly-charged emotions out of the conversation.
If you’re so heated that you’re red with anger and about to blow your top, then you’re not ready to fix anything yet.
When you’re angry, the other person will see that, and they will have a hard time listening to what you’re saying. And likewise, the high cortisol levels in your blood will be interfering with your ability to make good decisions and speak intelligently.
So first take a moment to calm yourself down. Take some deep breaths and center yourself.
If you’re struggling with that, try assuming the avatar of a judge in a court room, where everyone is relying on you to be the responsible adult and make an objective ruling on the situation.
When you do speak, make sure you use neutral facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
When I say neutral, I mean neutral. Don’t feel the need to put on a fake smile. No one is happy at that moment and smiles can come off as smug.
To find your neutral face, run through various emotions, from happiest of happies to angriest of angries to saddest of saddies. And somewhere in the middle of all that exists your NRF, neutral resting face.
Think about your neutral face as the expression you have when you are getting a passport photo taken. Relax all the muscles in your face, let all the wrinkles smooth out.
You may need to practice this one in the mirror.
By adopting a neutral face, your entire body and mind will follow suit, which will position you to speak in a balanced, steady voice, free of emotional distortion.
(3) Meet face-to-face
If you’re a regular on our channel, you’ve probably guessed this one. It’s super important to have difficult conversations in person.
Why? You have a better chance of getting things resolved sooner and more efficiently.
If you try to do conflict management over text or email, there is a lot that could go wrong.
For starters, you’re missing out on the big picture. You have no contextual clues for what they are saying because you cannot see their nonverbals and you cannot hear their voice. You have no way to gauge where the conversation is headed.
But when you meet in person, you have a lot more data to work with. You are reminded that there is another human in front of you. Another life and another sentient being who just wants to be happy and calm, and conflict free…just like you. By engaging with the person face to face, you show each other you both care about getting things back on track.
Moreover, conflict often comes from abstract frustrations rather than fundamental philosophical differences. Articulating those frustrations in writing is very difficult. By contrast, when you meet in person, a lot of the hard work of articulating those frustrations happens naturally through body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
Your social brain can decode all of that information and help guide the interaction toward resolution without you even knowing it!
So those are a few key strategies for resolving and managing conflict.
Let’s quickly recap:
(1) use collaborative language and don’t play the blame game
(2) keep highly charged emotions out by adopting a neutral face
(3) meet face-to-face to ensure nothing gets lost in translation
Now I know I started this video by saying these are conflict management strategies for sensitive people. But the truth is that these strategies work for all types of people. After all, we’re all sensitive in our own way, even if we put up a tough front.
So let’s be kind and considerate when communicating. And when things get heated, you now know what to do.
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I want to hear about the last time you tried to resolve a conflict. What was challenging about it? What worked and what didn’t?
Share that with me and the Explearning community in the comments below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡