We’ve all been there. We’re in a heated conversation, and our temperature is rising.
Within 10 minutes, a routine issue turns it into an emotional arm wrestling match, with raised voices and bruised egos.
This type of situation is all too common on teams–whether we’re talking a department at your nonprofit or a Board-CEO exchange. Although productive conflict is a hallmark of high-performing teams, many teams struggle to communicate dissenting opinions without triggering resistance and defensiveness. They fall into unproductive conflict by invalidating one another as they argue.
Do any of the following sound familiar? After someone speaks, you make no reference to what she said, instead jumping straight to your counterargument (or going off on a complete tangent). Your points become more polarized as the conversation goes back and forth. Or you use a passive-aggressive approach, turning your body away from the person and toward all the other people in the room. Each of those behaviors sends the signal that you don’t value what the other person has to say. You are invalidating him.
It may be difficult in the moment, but if you can validate the other’s perspective, expertise, and feelings, you will keep the conflict focused on the issue, avoiding the battle that comes when you intentionally or inadvertently invalidate someone.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you turn down the dial in your workplace (these can be used at home, too!) when the heat is starting to escalate:
1.) Make small changes in the language you use. Try using one or more of the following in your next conflict:
- “I think this is a really important issue that we need to talk through openly.”
- “Thanks for raising this issue. I’m uncomfortable with where we’re heading and would feel better if we could talk it through as a team.”
- “I think it took guts to put that on the table. I respect that.”
- “You come at this from a very different perspective than I do, so it’s natural that we see it differently.”
2.) Monitor your words, tone and body language. This demonstrates you value the conflict and the person involved. That doesn’t mean you agree with his point. It does mean that you’re listening and adapting what you think based on his contribution.
3.) Once the above is in place, pivot the conversation to introduce your perspective. Check out some of the ideas below:
- “I think this is a really important issue that we need to talk through openly. Here’s how I’m thinking about it…”
- “Thanks for raising this issue, because I’m uncomfortable with where we’re heading. My discomfort stems from…”
- “I think it took guts to put that on the table. I respect that, so let me reciprocate. Here’s what I’ve been thinking but not saying…”
- “You come at this from a very different perspective than I do, so it’s natural that we see it differently. My perspective is based on…”
- “From your perspective, this is about ___. For me, it’s more about ___.”
Give these a try in your next heated argument, and let us know how it goes!
Blog post by Stacey Wedding, Founder & Chief Strategist of PiP