3 Advanced Conflict Handling Techniques

As he walked in, the team leader asked the restaurant manager for speedy service. His team was jet-lagged and exhausted from an intense day.

Two hours later they’d only had the starter.

The team leader was at boiling point. It wasn’t the delay that maddened him, it was how the restaurant manager responded when asked if things could be hurried along.

How had the restaurant manager responded? She told the team that her staff were going as fast as they could with a full restaurant.

It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? So why did this response cause conflict?

Four advanced conflict handling techniques that Accredited Mediators use

Conflict like this happens daily, and good intent and logic isn’t enough to handle it.

Here are four Advanced Conflict Handling Techniques taught on accredited Mediation Courses that improve your chances of reaching an agreeable outcome:

Advanced Conflict Handling Technique #1: Clean Language

Do you use dirty language?

The chances are that you do, as we all need to work on this one. We’re not talking about swearing. We’re talking about words that are judgemental, negative or emotionally charged.

Examples might be:

  • “I don’t want to offend you, but…” – you now expect to be offended
  • “This isn’t manipulation, this is being honest” – the word ‘manipulation’ is negative and it is emotionally charged

Mediators calls these sorts of words a ‘spark’. In dry conditions, a spark can create a fireWhen handling conflict, the first rule is to keep your language clean.

Advanced Conflict Handling Technique #2: Defuse Emotion

When people are angry or frustrated, they don’t hear logic or good intent until their emotion has been acknowledged. Any other response risks creating an explosion – like pouring petrol onto the fire.

In this example, the restaurant manager might have said, “I hear how upset you are. I remember you saying you needed us to go fast. It’s not right that this has taken 2 hours”.

It’s important that the words used to acknowledge the problem are based on words and/or actions that are fact. So, if they say, “We’re really upset” then you can use the word “upset”. If they are physically shaking, you can say, “I can see this has shaken you”.

An easy mistake is to say “I can see you’re angry” when this is an assumption for which you have no evidence. Assumptions tend to make things worse.

If you’re in a position where you can apologise, then even better. There’s nothing like a genuine “sorry” to take the heat out of a situation.

Advanced Conflict Handling Technique #3: Encourage ‘Forward Based’ Requests

When things have gone wrong, we often dwell on them, running over them many times to prove just how wronged we’ve been and sometimes to go on to hold a grudge. But scoring points will likely lead to more emotional explosions and arguments.

We can’t pretend the past doesn’t exist so a great technique is to turn the learning into a request. It’s difficult for even the most volatile person to get offended by someone politely stating “I would like it if…”.

It’s a way of reframing what you want to say into an approach more likely to engage the other person and get results, e.g. “Given everything that’s happened, we’d really like it if the main course could come quickly now. Is this possible?”

Advanced Conflict Handling Technique #4: Accepting Gifts – Especially Hidden Ones

I’ll change examples to explain this technique. I was working with two project managers recently, who were frustrating each other resulting in one of them saying, “You have no idea what it’s like to work in the dark like this”.

This isn’t just an outburst of emotion – it’s a hidden gift. These hidden gifts are made all the time but often go unnoticed. It went unnoticed this time too – the colleague started down a different track. I asked for a break, we recapped and spotted the opportunity, and then came back together with the colleague saying, “I hear that you think you’re working in the dark. How could I help?”

It changed the conversation completely.

Other examples of hidden gifts are:

  • Concessions – I could probably turn it down a bit
  • Expressions of regret or apologies – I had no idea it was causing…
  • Expressions of understanding – I had no idea that was why…
  • Recognising the other’s point of view – I hadn’t thought of it that way

One day I intend to run some research on this. I don’t know why it works this way but my experience is that if you miss two or more (hidden) gifts, there’s no way back in that conversation. The best thing is to take a break and come back to it another time.

Benefits of Handling Conflict

Conflict is healthy and happens daily in all sorts of situations yet it is often unexpected.

Knowing that you have advanced techniques to handle whatever happens allows you to approach difficult situations with confidence, gaining recognition and respect for your people skills.

We’d like it if you were interested in running an Advanced Conflict Handling Masterclass in your organisation. Sorry! I couldn’t stop myself from using technique #3 to end the article… 😊

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