When it come to conflicts, disputes, arguments, there is something we have to accept and understand: we have failed to communicate effectively in the first instance.

Never heard of the phrase “listen to understand and not to answer”? Never a statement has been more true. For some reason both in private and professionally, I have been involved in some sort of conflict resolution many times, either futile or extremely serious and even if I do not particularly like them, those are the instances where I have learnt the most.

Once a troubled couple (more than an acquaintance) asked me to attend to one of their couple’s therapy session and I could not find a way to avoid it, but at the same time I was intrigued, also because I have heard both side of the story and I was curious to see how a professional would have managed that. On arrival it was explained to me, the reason of my presence, was to picture to the couple how their public behaves were affecting our (their friends) perception of them. From than never-ending embarrassing hour, one thing remained impressed on my mind: “you are not here to see who is wrong or who is wright, no one can judge you, if you are here it is because you think your relationship is more important than the right and the wrong and both you need to accept a compromise”. The therapist said.

Who could have thought, that phrase so much would have affected my behaviours during conflict resolutions years after. Luckily I had not to attend any more therapy session after that, but professionally I had sat to many tables in front of people motivated to prove them right. Between reasonable people, in business especially, it is quite simple to see the evidences of the facts and to understand who’s right and who’s wrong. Unfortunate we throw feelings into this business (in everything…) and what was factual, becomes “I feel you have not supported/delivered” regardless of the evidence.

We live in the culture of blame, even if we try to negate it. Parents always clap and prise the first steps of their toddlers, I never heard of a dad blaming his one year old son because he could not put a step after another, even if for any good step, he did fall ten in between. But when we grow up something change. At the same way I very rarely heard a manager or a client thanking or complimenting for a simple task well done. But when it comes to preform that job that no one can do and it is a pioneering exercise, all become expert and happy to rain judgment on your performances.

This should sound familiar to you, in the contract’s T&C there is a clause about disputed and most probably it says that if the disputed cannot be removed at PMT level it will be escalated to senior management and if it cannot be resolved the competent court will be… blah blah blah. This should rise a red flag immediately, is the PMT from both composed by the right people? Why they should be able to deliver a project and at the same time not to agree to what and how should be delivered? Secondly, what extra competence on the subject the senior management owns? I can answer to this straight away, the 50/50 rule.
An argument starts when one of the parties is in fault and does not want to accept it. You drive, someone pullover cutting your way, you horn and he stop arguing why you did so. It is clear, you expressed your disappointment for being cut off and in a reasonable world the other driver should just apology and end of the story. There is also another kind of conflict, those born when both parties genuinely believes to be right. This is when you need a mediator. This figure is a facilitator, not a judge. His job is to support the parties to see the other side point of view and understand it. At this point I can give you a free advice, do not go to a meeting persuaded you are going to win that, you’r wasting time and money, more over you will collect a failure and your boss will be not happy.

Yes, most of the issues in conflict and disputes arise form management attitude: “we cannot add any more loss on this, don’t give up anything”. Many people walk into a meeting room, knowing what they did wrong, but with the instruction to pretend to be right. As crazy that it sounds, I have witness this many times with the classic stereotyped ending of escalating the issue to the senior manager, that in front of a coffee recall since how many years both companies have been working together, it is all a given and a taken, to end closing the issue with the 50/50 rule. I take 50% of the hit and you take the other. So why not to send the seniors manager at the first instance and save time and money? Because it has always done like that and we do not like changes.

KAIZEN, it is time for a change, a change for good. The first step for a change is to admit we see the issue coming. I have great number of instances where project managers approached managers referring about their feelings, the infamous gut feeling. They have seen things happening. So if you can see things developing, why not to discuss it directly with the client immediately. Honesty, clarity and trust are at the basis of good communication. Did you built an environment of trust with your counterpart? Someone may argue why should I need to build an environment of trust and eventually how to achieve that?

It is time consuming, but not difficult. In a couple, just to reduce it to the minimum terms, is not common practice stop and talk about everyone needs: How do you feel, what is bothering you, where are you going and where you want to be in twelve months time. Knowing this informations, will allow you to adjust your behaviours, your choices and the way you relate with your partner. The most important part of this, is the perception the other will have of you. He/she knows you are aware of what he/she wants, needs and aim for and can see you acting to protect his/her interest, during your day by day life.

What if you made a mistake? You will be told and mitigated, because in an environment like this it is impossible to make big mistakes. To be in fault you start to drift away slowly until you lose control, but at the same moment of the drifting you will receive a red flag. The unbelievable is that we are prepared to call friends, professionals or any sort of “expertise” looking for suggestions on how to manage certain situations, all of this when the best adviser is your counterpart. No one better than you and him know about the happening and the issues. The only way to come to an agreement is to decide and deeply be convinced, you want an agreement. This will change everything, your approach, the thinking path, your behaviours.

This society, regardless the great technological improvement, the social achievements, mostly still react to things with little pro-activeness.

After so many century of evolution, it should be clear by now, that the best way to conflict resolution, it is to avoid to get into a conflict.

Conflict field’s have been a good school, where I have understood few things, below there are few suggestions I want to share when dealing with others and it applies on all areas when discussing with people:

  1. Be polite and do not rise your voice, show respect.
  2. Be clear, be extremely clear, do not expect any exercise from the counterpart to understand or read between the lines.
  3. Be consistent within your message. Avoid contradictions.
  4. This one is the best I learnt: be short, do not fill the gaps in your speech, with words!
  5. Be logical and conclude your sentences. Nothing more should be waited for.
  6. Understand from where you start and where you want to end.
  7. Be sure your arguments have a confirmation in life, examples, past events, future prospections.
  8. The most important: learn to listen and understand what the counterpart have to say and be able to walk his shoes.

Now you think that communicate is a hell of a job, researches shown 93% of communication is not verbal (you can google it yourself). Just to let you see how much work you have ahead. A better world come from better ourselves. Let’s work on us.

The best way to avoid a conflict is effective communication and if a conflict land, sit in your counterpart shoes before you start to plan your strategy. If you understand what the other wants and what he is prepared to accept, you have done it. In a confrontation there are no winners.