The department video conference (VC) hadn’t gone well. They were well practised at VCs across their two sites but they’d forgotten to apply the team norms they’d worked so hard on.

Apparently, they’d been forgetting them for a while.

Proposing a solution to her boss George, so that the next one would be better; she didn’t expect his defensiveness and anger.

Hidden Gifts in Conflict

Whilst she’d handled the conversation well, she was very curious when I told her she’d missed a gift…and couldn’t see what that could be.

She replayed the difficult conversation:

She’d started with a great opening line:

“We didn’t achieve as much as we would normally do in today’s departmental VC between our two sites. Why was that?”

There was some good-natured philosophical discussion until the pattern changed, with George’s angry accusation:

“You were the most experienced in your VC room, why didn’t you do something?”

We paused. She looked at me intently.

“Where’s the hidden gift in that sentence?”

In the first sparks of conflict, mediators are trained to look for gifts – and they are always well hidden.

A classic example is: “You have no idea what it’s like to work here”. You can claim this gift by responding: “I want to have an idea what it’s like to work there. Tell me more”

Claiming a gift surprises the person who offered it and always leads you to a better conversation.

The hidden gift in this conflict

Returning to our leader – the hidden gift was the compliment from their boss,

“You were the most experienced in your VC room”.

They could claim that gift by responding:

“I’m so pleased you see me as the most experienced in that VC room. Thank you.”

In conflict, the chances are that the recipient – George in this case – would be wrong-footed in a good way by that unexpected response.

With some control over conversation, why not be brave enough to find out more with a question like “What could we do differently?”.

This would be the perfect point to then push forward in a constructive way. You wouldn’t have wanted to say this before, but now that you have some control over the conversation, why not be brave enough to find out more with a question like:

“What could we do differently?”

Is it too late?

Even in the statements above, you can see the dangerous spark handled, extinguished, and the tone changing to a more positive one where people could listen to each other and solutions could be found.

And the chances are it isn’t too late to go back to someone to replay one of their sentences to them, claim the hidden gift, and continue the conversation in a different direction.
She did this and reported back that George then himself suggested that they needed to go back to the VC norms they’d all agreed months ago, and they were able to commit to enforcing them again together, with George and her in different VC rooms.
She said

“And because it came from him, rather than me, he’s properly committed to it this time.”

Want more?

If you’re interested in advanced conflict skills, or influencing skills, then check out our articles or ask us about red10 ‘s masterclasses.