In a conflict, the first words out of your mouth will set the tone and direction of the conversation. Enter correctly, and you give yourself the best chance of success. Enter the wrong way and it will be difficult to recover.
Derek was an IT leader at his company. He and his team had a meeting with Derek’s boss to discuss an important project they had been working on for a couple of weeks.
Derek’s boss started the meeting by saying he might have to bring in an outside vendor to help with the project. His boss declared, “I don’t have confidence this group can get this done.”
Derek was blindsided. His boss had said nothing to him about this. Because Derek did not know how to respond, he simply did not say anything. After the meeting, Derek confronted his boss. This wasn’t the first time his boss had undermined him in public. They ended up in a nasty argument.
What would you have done in Derek’s situation? Was there anything Derek could have said or done in that meeting?
How you enter a conflict will have a large impact on the outcome
In a conflict, when someone says something you don’t agree with or don’t like, your natural instinct is to push against the other person.
“That’s not true!”
“You think I’m the problem? You’re the problem!”
The second you push against the other person, you create resistance. Now each person is focused on proving he/she is right and the other person is wrong.
This is especially problematic if the other person is your boss.
So what’s another way to enter a conversation? Ask a clarifying question.
Ask, “What’s most important to you?”
One of the most powerful clarifying questions you can ask is, “What’s most important to you?”
This sends two messages:
One – You care about and want to understand the other person.
Two – Your goal is to get clarity vs. trying to prove you are right.
That’s why this question instantly reduces resistance.
NOTE: Do NOT ask “why” questions. They can make the other person feel defensive.
Example: Derek asks his boss a question
When Derek’s boss said, “I don’t have confidence this group can get this done.”
Derek could have calmly responded, “What’s most important to you about this project?”
This way Derek is not disagreeing with or pushing against his boss. Derek is also getting off the line of attack. He is focusing the conversation on the project (instead of a person).
Let’s say Derek’s boss comes back with, “That the project is completed on time.”
At this point Derek can continue to ask clarifying questions focusing on timelines and resources. The key is Derek needs to remain calm and curious, rather than defensive.
Take off your boxing gloves, put on your detective hat
Enter a conflict by asking a clarifying question. It’s a simple way to reduce resistance. Instead of getting defensive, get curious.
Plus, entering by asking a question (instead of instantly disagreeing) gives you the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings. This allows both parties to get clarity on the problem in order to focus on a solution.