Do conflicts make you afraid? It is normal. Instinctively, the brain tells us that they are dangerous, so our natural tendency is to fight or flee. However, the fear of conflict can turn leaders, managers and employees into “psychological hostages”, who become paralyzed and lose the ability to act.
The truth is that a well-managed conflict implies enormous benefits, both for companies and for the people who work in them. In fact, conflict management is often one of the biggest drivers of change.
Therefore, if addressed appropriately, they can help staff to be more innovative, create stronger bonds, work in effective teams and improve their performance. The key to resolving conflicts lies in openly facing the problem and negotiating in order to obtain a win-win outcome.
One of the most extreme and violent manifestations of a conflict It is what happens when an individual or a group is taken hostage. But, in fact, more than 95 percent of these incidents are resolved peacefully, with the consequent release of the hostages and the surrender of the kidnappers. We are all capable of learning the tactics that produce that extraordinary success rate for defusing conflict, both in business and in our personal lives.
Conflict is expressed as a difference between two or more people or groups, and is characterized by tension, disagreement, heightened emotions or polarization.
In companies there is more and more diversity and growing interdependence, which is why the probability of discrepancies arising also increases. As an executive, you are just one voice among many. It is very likely that your responsibilities exceed your authority. You will inevitably have to face some conflict. In most cases, facing it openly will improve your chances of achieving the goals you have set.
People generate conflicts as a result of the cycle of human relationships. And when ties are broken, they experience feelings of loss, disappointment, frustration, and even deep suffering. If you identify with these sensations, you will have a better vision of the problem and how to solve it.
Companies can cause their people to suffer or feel overwhelmed by negative emotions: a denied promotion, a bad job performance report, the cancellation of a project they had committed to. In these cases, people experience deep needs that may not be met, and this causes more discord.
When faced with conflict, our natural reaction is to fight, flee or freeze. But we can overcome the fear we feel if we control our emotions. Human beings live in many “states”. A “state” is a combination of feelings, thoughts, physiology and behavior that, to a large extent, determine the way we act. It is possible to change a “state” from negative to positive—from fear to anger, for example—and do the opposite of what common sense would suggest: go towards the person with whom we are in conflict. How to achieve it? A key tactic is to apply the ability to “visualize,” one of the most powerful mechanisms in the brain as it shapes how we view a particular situation and determines how we will act or react.
To improve performance, athletes visualize themselves winning, without losing sight of their goal at any time. In reality, most high-performing individuals appeal to that mental mechanism to focus on the benefits, beyond the fear or potential danger.
Visualization is also a fundamental tool to achieve a positive or negative result when managing a conflict. “Our mind’s eye” is conditioned by experiences and choices that define the way we see the world and, ultimately, success or failure in dealing with conflict.
In these types of situations, many leaders become “hostages” to their inner fears, and do not see the opportunities that would help them resolve them.
The key to dismantling a conflict lies in establishing a bond—or reestablishing it if it has deteriorated—with the other party. For this it is not necessary that we like that individual; All that is needed is a common goal. Treat the person as a friend, and base the relationship on mutual respect and cooperation. Leaders must learn to differentiate between the person and the problem, and avoid negative reactions to attacks or intense emotions.
It is important not to divert the conversation from the topic at hand, to stay focused on a positive outcome, and to be aware of the common goal. Don’t be hostile or aggressive. The next stage is negotiation, in which in addition to dialogue there is “bargaining”. Dialogue and negotiation produce genuine and productive transactions for both parties.
This expression means raising a difficult question without hostility. The phrase comes from Sicily, where fishermen, who maintain very strong ties, display their bloody haul of the day on a large table, to clean it together.
If you leave fish “under the table,” it starts to rot and smell bad. Instead, once you raise the issue, you can begin to clear up the mess. Be direct but respectful, and speak at the right time.
Among the roots of a discrepancy are differences in objectives, interests or values. Opposing perceptions of a problem could also play a role. “It’s about quality control” and “What’s wrong is production,” and even different communication styles. Power, rivalry, insecurity, resistance to change and role confusion are other reasons for disagreement.
It is crucial to determine whether a conflict is related to interests or needs. Interests are more transitory and superficial, such as the possession of land, money or a job; the needs are more basic and difficult to negotiate: identity, security and respect, to name a few. Many conflicts seem to be motivated by interests, when in reality they are the product of needs.
Reciprocity is the basis of cooperation and collaboration. In general, what you give is what you receive. Recently, several researchers have discovered “mirror neurons” in the brain, which indicates that our limbic system (emotional brain), where empathy is located, recreates in us the experience of another’s intentions and emotions. Exchange and internal adaptation allow two individuals to be able to identify with the internal states of the other. Consequently, both will be able to make the necessary concessions at the right time.
Once a bond is established, nurture the relationship and continue pursuing your goals. Try to balance reason and emotion, because emotions like fear, anger, frustration can derail well-planned actions.
Understand the other person’s point of view, whether you share it or not. The more effectively you communicate your differences and points of agreement, the better you will understand each other’s concerns, thereby improving your chances of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. The strongest bonds are based on what psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.”
Feeling accepted, worthy and valued are basic psychological needs. And, as the negotiation processes to release hostages demonstrate, it is more productive to persuade than to coerce.