Resolving A Conflict? Avoid These Behaviors

I’m really easy to get along with once people learn to see it my way.

The daily news is filled with stories of conflict. And our TV sitcom “entertainment” is almost always based on conflict and people who handle it poorly. In fact much of the so-called “humor” in those sitcoms is nothing more than a series of destructive, damaging putdowns.

As a result, I don’t watch much of it. I’m very careful about what I let into my mind. But just the other day I caught a few minutes of a show and heard such lines as, “A good scapegoat is about as good as a solution.” And someone else said, “I assume full responsibility for my actions, except the ones that are someone else’s fault.” Real cute! But definitely a bunch of lies and false information.

As you can probably tell, I hate conflict. If I had my way, everyone would get along, work together, and be productive. But I know that’s NEVER going to happen. However, it is POSSIBLE to reduce, remove, or resolve a lot of the conflicts that occur on the job or at home. It’s simply a matter of AVOIDING certain behaviors and PRACTICING certain skills. It’s a part of what I teach in my two-day PEAK PERFORMANCE BOOT CAMP.

As an overall principle, YOU MUST BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL ABOUT THE WORDS YOU USE IN ANY CONFLICT SITUATION. They can literally make or break any chance you have of resolving the conflict.

William Arthur Ward said it best. He said, “Can one hold back the waves and ripples once a paddle has broken the calm of the lake’s surface? Neither can one control the ever-widening ever-damaging effects of an unkind word, after it has entered the ear of another.”

That being the case, I want to suggest there are 7 behaviors — or 7 uses of words — that you must AVOID. You simply CANNOT communicate in these ways — because this always makes things worse. Let’s go through them.

=> 1. Never Compare.

Comparisons are weapons — especially in conflict situations. They’re used to point out the worst in someone else. And when you think about it, comparisons are counterproductive. How can you expect to bring out the best in someone by pointing out his/her worst?

Nonetheless, you’ve heard thousands of comparisons. People say things like, “Well, our other supervisor didn’t have those silly rules” or “You’re just like your Uncle John, and he was never any good.”

I even see comparisons used in advertising. On one plumber’s truck, it said, “We repair what your husband fixed.” While I’ll admit it’s a clever phrase, I can just see some families using those words as put downs in the midst of an argument.

=> 2. Never Condemn.

The great football coach Lou Holtz says, “It’s tough to get ahead when you waste your time getting even.” That’s why condemnation has to be avoided. It’s a dead end to nowhere.

This blaming, condemning behavior often starts with the “You” word. It comes out in words such as “You should … You always … You never … or … You’re the one to blame.”

I remember being at a dinner party where one woman said to her husband, “There are two things wrong with your speaking. You get off the track.” And her husband asked, “What’s the second?” “You came back to it.” she replied.

Even though she might have shared the comment with a certain lightness to her tone, it was a condemnation nevertheless. And I suspect the husband felt put down rather than amused.

Again, I repeat, never condemn — if you’re trying to resolve a conflict. And if you’re the victim of someone’s condemnation, just remember they’re trying to defend themselves against their own feelings of inadequacy. Jason was an example of that.

Years ago when my wife and I wanted to discuss treats in front of our three-year old, we would often spell out the words to avoid a confrontation. Jason condemned us. He told us that such behavior was simply an admission of being unable to say “no” to our child.

Perhaps he was right. And my wife and I felt duly chastised — until Jason and Margaret dropped by with their child, our daughter’s playmate. Jason asked us, “Would your firstborn care to accompany my offspring to our abode for the purpose of recreation?”

Obviously, Jason and Margaret had some of the same feelings of inadequacy that we did and every new set of parents seem to have. But they covered up their feelings of inadequacy by putting us down.

Personally, I think the best advice comes from family therapist Dr. Virginia Satir. She said, “Don’t look for faults, look for gaps.”

In other words, instead of wasting your time on whose fault it is — instead of condemning the other person’s shortcomings — look for the gaps between your wants and the other person’s behavior. And focus on what you and the other person can do to fill in those gaps.

=> 3. Never Command.

People hate being told what to do. They just HATE it. So don’t do it — unless the other person asks for your input, feedback, advice, or direction.

And yet a lot of people seem to live by the motto that says, “Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there are no sweeter words than ‘I told you so’.” One person even bragged, “I need not suffer in silence while I can still moan, whimper, and complain.”

I didn’t realize — that in the early days of my parenting — I came across as too commanding. But it became very clear to me when I told one of my daughters, “After dinner, you and I are going to have a talk.” She said, “Why can’t you be like other fathers and just beat me?” Apparently my words were worse than a spanking, and my words intensified our conflicts rather than resolve them.

Before you are tempted to tell others what to do, before you bark out a command, remember, “A word to the wise is resented.”

=> 4. Never Challenge.

Don’t try to dare someone into submission or into action. That goes back to our grade-school days when we used to dare, double dare, and double-dog dare someone.

Oh it may work on occasion. The other person may do what you want him to do, but he’ll resent you rather than respect you. And yet I hear people throw out challenging lines quite frequently.

It may be the parent that tells his kid, “Just try it and you’ll be sorry.” It may be the wife that tells her husband, “If you think I spend too much money, try divorce and you’ll learn what expensive is.” Or it may be the manager that tells his underachieving employee, “If you think employment is hard, try unemployment.”

ABC chief White House correspondent Sam Donaldson talked about the resistance that comes with challenge. He was traveling with President Jimmy Carter in India, visiting the small village of Carterpuri to see how it had solved its energy problem. Cartepuri simply threw all the cow manure from its herds into a large pit, then siphoned off the methane gas to light the village lamps.

At one point in the tour, Donaldson and Carter were standing on the edge of the manure pit inspecting the process. “If I fell in, you’d pull me out, wouldn’t you, Mr. President?” asked Donaldson.

“Certainly,” President Carter replied, then paused, and said, “after a suitable interval.” So be careful about daring or threatening someone. The procedure will probably backfire on you.

I said there are 7 behaviors or 7 types of words you should AVOID if you’re trying to resolve a conflict. They make conflict resolution a great deal less likely. That’s four of them. I’ll share the other three behaviors next week.

Action:  Which of these four ineffective behaviors do you use most often? Comparing? Condemning? Commanding? Challenging?

Carefully examine the words you use when you’re comparing, condemning, commanding, or challenging. And think of other more effective words you could use the next time you’re tempted to fall back into your old