Confrontation or collaboration? To resolve conflicts, what’s best? 

Whatever has caused a conflict to arise, once we’re involved in it we have to deal with it and, hopefully, resolve it.

Arthur attacks Mordred.
Confrontation: "Then the king ... ran towards Sir Mordred, crying, 'Traitor, now is thy death day come.'" Should Arthur and Mordred tried collaboration? (Illustration via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2015 – There’s nothing inviting about getting involved in a conflict. That is, unless you have an inherently combative nature or are placed in a situation where combative behavior is expected, as is true for trial attorneys defending a case in the courtroom.

Not every conflict ends up in court, of course. Whether we like it or not, we all run into conflicts from time to time, even if we haven’t invited them. Whatever has caused a conflict to arise, once we’re involved in it we have to deal with it and, hopefully, resolve it. To accomplish this, we have a choice of confronting or collaborating with our opponents.

Webster’s Dictionary defines confrontation as “A situation in which people, groups, etc. fight, oppose, or challenge each other in an angry way; a face to face meeting; the clashing of forces or ideas.”

Yes, there are circumstances when it you may need to be “hard-nosed.” Remember Perry Mason? Confronting or directly challenging one’s opponents or arguments in an attempt to force a solution does have merits, particularly when attempting to break an impasse.

But I believe strongly in the old adage, “you can catch more bees with honey.” As a Certified Coach and Mediator, I choose to go the alternate, proactive route of being more collaborative when working toward the resolution of a conflict.

My point of view on the subject is that you can still be firm in your arguments or reasoning while at the same time approaching difficult issues by taking a collaborative posture. My suggestion is to view any situation, professionally or personally, as an opportunity for collaboration by exploring questions like these:

  • How can we manage together?
  • How can we get to resolution?
  • What steps can we take to get there?

Offering possible avenues for conflict by explicitly involving the other party or parties using welcoming opening questions like these will tend to create less stress and anxiety in the negotiating atmosphere. This holds true whether you are approaching your boss on a controversial topic, dealing with somebody who tends to be difficult, struggling in a strained personal relationship, or even when making a large purchase like a home or car. If you do the best you’re capable of while reaching out to the other party in the process, you’ll often find you’ll like the score at the end of the round.

Three things to do before you even get involved:

  • Determine: Is your goal to win and preserve the relationship? Or just to win?
  • After resolving that question, weigh out your situation.
  • Commit in advance to this: When things feel like they are heading out of control, harness your power by coming from the “we” position and not the “I” position.

When I was going through mediation certification, the group I was in was made-up of two judges, 12 lawyers, a social worker and me. In one of the first exercises we worked on, we were given a case study exercise focusing on divorce. We were then randomly put into pairs to work on the case.

So who do you think got to resolution the fastest? If you guessed the social worker and me, you are correct. From the start, our approach was to be more collaborative and “coach-like” and to put what was best for the clients ahead of anything else.

It was not that everyone else in the group didn’t have the client’s best interest in mind. It was simply that, given our differing professional backgrounds, we all had different approaches and training that we instinctively applied to resolving the case.

When the class debriefed the case, the judges had said they were used to telling and directing people what to do. The lawyers’ approach, on the other hand, was to take more of an adversarial or confrontational approach as they must often do in their profession. Through the training, however, everyone who shifted into a more collegial, collaborative style learned that this style was often more successful in conflict resolution.

Here are some tips for getting productive, positive outcomes when attempting to work through and resolve a conflict:

  • Be respectful to all involved. (Surprisingly, the number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they have been disrespected…not because of money issues).
  • Actively look for ways to manage and resolve the conflict together.
  • Be more collegial toward your opponent or opponents, not adversarial.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Say “yes” when you mean “yes” and “no” when you mean “no.”
  • Watch the way you are communicating – verbally and non-verbally. Your body language and your tone of voice can betray hostility, a lack of trust, or both, making it difficult to invite collaboration.
  • Speak up. If something does not go the way you want it to, say it. But keep things in perspective.

Above all, remember this: It’s not the end of the world if you can’t resolve a conflict or an issue right away. That’s part of the reason the problem arose to begin with.

For more on this topic, check out the suggested list of books I recommend on my website.

For more information, or if you have any questions:

Susan Commander Samakow, PCC, CPCC
Certified Business, Life & Leadership Coach
Focusing on Confidence & Resilience Strategies, Life & Career Transition, & Business & Leadership
Certified Mediator         [email protected]

301-706-7226  or 703-574-0039

Twitter: @SelfTalkCoach!/susan.samakow

Ask Susan about the Stress Reducing techniques she teaches: EFT (Tapping) and Breathing Exercises.

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