Volume 11, Number 8
Conflict the People-Smart Way
by Mel Silberman, Ph.D. and Freda Hansburg, Ph.D.
Drs. Silberman and Hansburg are professors of Adult
and Organizational Development at Temple University and are
President and Vice President, respectively, of Active Training (www.activetraining.com).
Dr. Silberman is author of 101
Ways to Make Training Active, Active
Training, and 101 Ways
to Make Meetings Active (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1995,
1998, 1999). His latest book is PeopleSmart:
Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence (Berrett-Koehler,
San Francisco, 2000).
As long as there are differences among people,
there will be conflicts and competing interests.
And who can say that this is bad?
Out of our conflicts have come our most enduring
institutions, governments, and religions.
Nations have all been forged out of the struggle to express
our needs, resolve our disputes, and accept our differences.
Like sun and rain or day and night, conflict is part of the
rhythm of life. Our challenge is to master it and grow through it.
Fortunately, most of us do handle conflict without
resorting to violence. Let’s
consider a fairly typical case example.
his work at an engineering firm, Jim is generally deferential,
especially to his superiors, who perceive him as loyal and
accepts last-minute projects, sometimes venting his irritation
with a sarcastic remark. In fact, on the job, sarcasm is Jim’s weapon of choice when
he’s dissatisfied. He
has a rapier wit, which others find amusing, but also
disconcerting. Colleagues aren’t always quite sure when Jim is seriously
week, Jim had a rare burst of explicit anger at work when he
learned that a female subordinate he himself had trained received
the promotion he’d been hoping for.
Steaming, Jim dashed off an e-mail message to his boss that
just dripped with venom. He
even included a crack about how his boss had obviously been
“swayed by the curves” of the woman who got the promotion.
Now his boss has asked him to come to his office to discuss
the situation, and Jim feels like a nervous wreck.
Do you see any of yourself in Jim? Or are you more people-smart about conflict, like Stu:
usually know where they stand with Stu, a middle manager in a
large communications company.
He’s direct with others, and likes them to treat him the
same way. He tries to
deal with issues promptly, rather than push them under the rug.
Stu is observant with others and tends to pick up the
signals when they’re upset or annoyed.
When he engages someone in discussing a conflict, he makes
it a point to be calm and direct, even if he needs to talk himself
down before he goes to confront the person.
has a knack for setting the stage for dealing with conflict by
inviting people to find solutions.
He’ll say something like “let’s sit down and see if
we can figure out how to improve communication between our
departments,” even if his first impulse was to say:
“what is it with your people, anyway?”
Before he goes to the negotiating table, Stu prepares
himself by thinking through his own wants and needs and doing some
detective work, whenever possible, to know where the other guy is
coming from. Experience
has taught him not to try to win the battle at the expense of the
war, so he tries to show respect for the other party.
He’s skillful at brainstorming possible solutions to
conflicts that will allow everyone to walk away with something
they want, even though this isn’t always easy.
Rather than shy away from conflict, people-smart
individuals use these key behaviors to constructively navigate
their differences with others:
If more of us approached conflict with this kind of
interpersonal intelligence, the world would be a calmer, safer and
more creative place. You
can at least use these abilities to make your own
corner of the world more that way!
Here are four ways to enhance your abilities and
your confidence in dealing with conflict.