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How To Prevent A Potential Conflict From Turning To Custard

12 Jul 2017

How To Prevent A Potential Conflict From Turning To Custard

Turn to Custard

Verb[edit] turn to custard (third-person singular simple present turns to custard, present participle turning to custard, simple past and past participle turned to custard)

(New Zealand) To go badly awry

Potential Conflict

Thinking about Potential Conflict

Your thoughts about conflict may conflict with the truth! When I ask people to think of conflict they often conjure up negative images and sounds; altercations, sulking, crying, avoidance, abusive language, even physical fighting and war! These sounds and images produce uneasy, nervous feelings and emotions. Is it any wonder many people try to avoid potential conflict when the way we think about conflict is often detrimental to its resolution?

A Key to Resolving Conflict is to Change Your Thinking

How would you behave differently if you didn’t perceive conflict as awful, distressing or frightening ? When you think about conflict differently if affects how you deal with it. There are many ways that, far from being bad, conflict can be an opportunity.

We could employ solution thinking: conflict as a way to resolve a problem

This kind of thinking is likely to produce more acceptable images and sounds, thus settling the nerves and helping you feel more calm and creative. When you can resolve conflicts satisfactorily, the outcome is often a deeper understanding and improved relationships. Conflicts also, therefore, provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships. There might be new learning involved too.

Learn better communication skills

When you learn ways to successfully resolve conflict, you increase your repertoire of communication skills and expand your flexibility. You build resourcefulness and resilience which in turn helps you relax more about potential future conflicts.

Think of the positives

Many new technologies, solutions and innovations often come from successfully brainstorming to resolve a conflict situation. Suffice to say, then, that although conflict is inevitable – it’s not all bad! The main thing about conflict is getting it resolved before a situation gets out of control and relationships cannot be rebuilt or reconciled.

Prevent a problem from escalating

Nipping an issue or potential conflict in the bud is far better than having to clean up the mess from a full-blown conflict that has been ignored. Noticing when circumstances change or when matters are about to boil over, is easier than having to mop up when everything’s turned to custard! Noticing small but problematic changes in behaviour and doing something about them is relatively easy – when you know how.

Notice and respond to behavioural changes

If you pay attention to other people in your family, your team or your social network, it’s relatively easy to notice when there are changes in their behaviour.

Let me use a work example here: Let’s say you’’ve listened to a colleague or one of your team be rather abrupt with 3 different customers on the phone this morning. She’s normally charming and friendly so being abrupt is very out of character for her.

Potential conflict

This is the time to tackle anything that seems untoward

There may not be a potential conflict at this point, it may simply be a cry for help from someone who doesn’t know how to say what’’s upsetting them. So how do you broach the subject if you notice any untoward changes in behaviour?

Here’’s how

Get yourself into a calm emotional state

It’’s generally not a great idea to try and resolve problems when you’’re upset, angry, frustrated or any other less-than-resourceful emotional state. Walk away, take some long and deep breaths. Give people the benefit of the doubt and go back with an open mind. You could use an anchoring technique to get yourself calm, or click and listen to, The CALM Spot.

Solution thinking

Remind yourself that conflict can be an opportunity! Be curious to discover what that opportunity might be.

Establish rapport

Our natural tendency, when faced with a potential conflict, is to physically get out of rapport. Unfortunately, this almost always makes the situation worse and may cause escalation. So get into physical rapport by mirroring body language.

Why does mirroring work?

We like people who are like us. Mirroring – making our body language a mirror image of the other person’’s – is a natural and unconscious behaviour when we like someone or are getting along. When we dislike someone, or there’’s a problem, our unconscious response is to get out of rapport physically, which, in turn, makes matters worse. Rather than sitting or standing directly in front of someone, which can become confrontational, stand alongside or at a slight angle to each other. And try to avoid the blockade of a large piece of furniture between the two of you – a table – for example.

Describe the person’’s behaviour factually without blaming them for it

It’’s useful when you’’re not used to dealing with potential conflict to write down exactly what you see and hear. By making some notes, you can check that what you’ve written is factual and unemotional. Talking factually will help prevent you inflaming the situation by appearing to accuse the other person. In turn, this can help you feel more comfortable addressing the issue.

You do this by:
  • Describing the behaviour in a factual and objective way
  • Being unemotional and non-judgemental
  • Listening to their responses
An example of a positive response

In the earlier example, you’’ve listened to a colleague or one of your team be rather abrupt with 3 different customers on the phone this morning. She’s normally charming and friendly so being abrupt is very out of character for her.  You say something like:

“You’re usually very pleasant and friendly with our customers, but I noticed you used a different, clipped and sharper tone with that last customer, as well as the previous two clients that you spoke with. Is there something the matter?”

Note: What you write down is to ensure that when you speak to the person, what you say meets the criteria mentioned above. Under no circumstances should you email, text or send what you’’ve written to the other person. (See Email Wars: The Confusion, Cost And Casualties Of Miscommunication)

A negative response to the earlier example: “

“Geez, you’’re grumpy today. We’’ll never have any customers if you talk to them like that. What the hell is the matter with you?”” In this example you’ve judged the person’s behaviour based on your own perception. You might imagine the response.

Perceptions are as different as people

perceptionWe all process information differently, so people will have different perceptions of the same event. Conflict can only escalate when people can’t or won’t see each other’s’ perspectives. Faced with emotional responses or negative, distorted thinking it’’s easy to criticise or attack. So please take the time to make sure you’re being objective when you confront an issue. Then…

Listen to their response without an agenda

Have the intention to understand. Don’’t interrupt. Ask yourself,

  • What’ is the real issue?
  • What’ is causing the upset?
  • What would resolve it?
What if the person gets upset?

You don’t have to agree with someone just because they’’re upset. Just as in the image above, people see things differently. Who is “right”? The key to resolving a potential conflict is being able to hold more than one perspective. Can you see both points of view?

Make eye contact

Give the person who’’s speaking eye contact. It’’s not enough to just listen with your ears. You need to listen with your whole body, including your eyes. Give your full attention to the speaker. Yes, I know you can still hear while you’re filleting fish and texting. But, when you continue to do other things it sends an unconscious message to the speaker that those other things are more important than listening to him/her.

How Much Eye Contact?

Obviously, there are cultural differences which determine how much eye contact is appropriate. What is considered polite in some cultures is rude in others. Shy people might not give as much eye contact as confident people. So one way is to give someone about the same amount of eye contact as they give you. That way you’’ll avoid scaring the living daylights out of someone with the intensity of your stare.

Continue to listen to understand

Don’t just listen for ammunition that you can use to prove your point. Listen with intention. The intention to fully understand.

Separate their perception from reality while reflecting back what you’ve heard

Examples of how to separate their perception from reality:

  • So as far as you’’re concerned…”
  • “So the way you see things is …”
  • You’’re saying you’’re feeling…?”
  • “I can see this is troubling you…”

NB I’’ve bolded the words ‘you’ and ‘you’’re’ in the above examples. The reason for this is to demonstrate how to acknowledge the other person’’s upset while having them own it. Do not place emphasis on those words when you’’re talking – this is likely to make matters worse and distract from the real issues.

Reflective listening is ‘reflecting back’ to the person what they’’ve said using their keywords. The keywords are the words the speaker puts more emphasis on or that seem important to her.

Why use her keywords?

Words are important. Some words are more important to individuals than other words. Keywords have certain feelings associated with them and act like ‘hot buttons’, triggering a particular state. If you change their words – by paraphrasing – you’ll also change the meaning and feelings they attach to those words. Doing so could mean you no longer have rapport.

Let’s use the previous example again

You said, “You’re usually very pleasant and friendly with our customers, but I noticed you used a different, clipped and sharper tone with that last customer, as well as the previous two clients that you spoke with. Is there something the matter?” 

Your team member responds with, “You’re probably right. I’m stressed by the amount of paper work I’ve got to get through at the moment, I don’t have time for small talk with customers.”

Your response to that could be: “So you’re feeling stressed by the amount of paperwork you have to get through and you think you don’t have time for small talk with customers?” (Yes, it is very simple. Please don’t underestimate the power of saying someone’s words back to them!)

You’ll listen to the reply to your reflective listening – and continue reflective listening, hopefully getting further clarification. Don’t be surprised if the person resolves the problem themselves as you continue to listen!

Now it’’s time to put your point of view.

Now that you’’ve listened, understood and clarified, she will more likely be prepared to hear what you have to say. It’’s the law of reciprocation. It’’s time to give your point of view. Of course, if you’’ve listened well, you might find that your perspective has changed because of what you’’ve learnt. Even if only a little. Or you may have intuited a simple solution that can work to resolve the issues raised. Take into account what the other person has just told you when you let her know what you’’re thinking.

Of course, you’ll do this making sure you own your emotions

Just as you made sure the person with the problem owned their behaviour and emotions, you’’ll do the same when you get your chance to speak. You won’’t blame anyone for how you feel.

When listening and responding is done properly it often diffuses the situation enough that it can potential conflict can be averted. Practising the skills outlined will help you prevent problems from escalating into conflict situations. The absolute worst thing is to ignore any unwanted behaviour in the hope it will go away. It rarely does. My book, REAL People Skills could be a good investment for developing essential tools that will help you prevent potential conflict.

More skills may be required

If the circumstances have become complicated; if several people are involved or problems have escalated, you’ll need more skills than those outlined in this article and possibly some help from experienced people to resolve disagreements and prevent things turning to custard.