Conflict Management and Negotiation

During the session on conflict management and negotiation, led by Carolyn Ray (@carolyn_ray), participants learned how to deal with a variety of personalities, and how to avoid conflict through pre-emptive problem-solving strategies.

Many of the participants agreed that while conflict is often perceived as a negative, it can result in communication that might not have happened otherwise. Effective communication can be used as a tool to avoid conflict before it arises. This means being specific, and making sure everyone who is involved in a project has a clear idea of what’s happening, and what is expected of them. When everyone is “on the same page,” it is easier to manage expectations, knowing that all parties are working toward a common goal.

Ray described the book Working with You is Killing Me by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, noting that it outlines four major steps in a process called “unhooking.” The book describes being “hooked” as being stuck in a conflict and unable to get out of it. The solution is to “unhook” one’s self—first physically, then mentally, then verbally, and finally with a business tool.

Conflict situations lead to decreased productivity, heightened stress, and a generally bad work climate. It’s critical for those involved to remove themselves physically from the conflict situation, and do what is necessary to calm down. Unhooking verbally means answering several questions: “What is happening? What’s the situation? Who is being affected? What are the facts? What was my part in the problem?”Once these questions have been answered, it becomes easier to look at the situation objectively, gain perspective, come to an agreement, and release the conflict.

When verbally addressing a conflict, it is important to use “I statements.” “People tend to get really testy when someone is defensive,” Ray said. “Using that ‘I statement’ really defuses it. Once you say ‘I know why I’m wrong,’ everyone is more relaxed and easily dealt with.”

The last step, unhooking with a business tool, involves making the situation more objective. Addressing the fact that one employee is not pulling their weight might mean reviewing their job description with them. If a person is consistently late, it may be necessary to have them clock in every day. The key to unhooking with a business tool is making the policy contrast with people’s actions, so they realize what they’re doing wrong.
Referring to the book Dealing with the Customer from Hell, by Shaun Belding, Ray said the author uses the acronym LESTER to convey how conflict should be handled:
•    Listening
•    Echoing
•    Sympathizing
•    Thanking
•    Evaluating
•    Responding

Ray said this means looking at the situation and telling the other individual involved, “I’m here now and we can make it better, here and now. I’m sorry that you’re upset; I understand, let’s fix it.” Once this has been stated, it becomes harder to get caught up in the feelings involved in the conversation, but easier to focus on what can be done to solve the problem, at least temporarily.

For example, Ray described a wedding she had organized. A cake decorator failed to meet the requirements of the product purchase for the event. When Ray addressed the situation by asking, “What do you think this is worth?” the vendor broke down crying with a series of explanations.

“It was necessary to say, ‘I don’t care what the reason is, I’m sorry, but let’s see how we can fix this,” Ray said. “It’s about defusing that person—saying, ‘I understand this is hard for you. What is your solution to this? What is going to help you and us move forward on this?’”

It is critical to acknowledge a problem when it arises, because problems that aren’t acknowledged can end up festering in the minds of those involved. One participant noted the “power of sorry”; empathy can be very effective when someone is angry. The typical reaction to another’s anger is often to get defensive. For this reason, the ability to relate and apologize can be an important tool.

Being honest, open, and staying on top of the situation helps people understand what is important to those involved in a conflict. One participant acknowledged that people get the most angry when they’re embarrassed. Finding out what is important to them helps keep them from “hitting the roof” after being embarrassed by something in front of the guests at their event.

The participant noted that two critically different categories of conflict can occur. The first are those that only the event planners and client know about. These problems can be reframed, saying, “Okay, we blew it, but let’s keep this in perspective—no one knew about it.”

The second category is the mistakes that everyone knows about. “Those are embarrassing, and it’s horrible,” the participant said. “You say, ‘Roll video 1, and video 2 plays, and you’re like, just shoot me.” In these situations a worthwhile solution can be to inject humor, turning the conflict into a memorable moment that might later be remembered as a funny story.

Session summaries produced by The Conference Publishers, the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repackaging conference content.

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