8 Resolutions for Difficult Interpersonal Conversations

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Communication and Skills > Best Practices > 8 Resolutions for Difficult Interpersonal Conversations

8 Resolutions for Difficult Interpersonal Conversations
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Sometimes a conversation (at work) can be awkward, difficult or not effective, despite of good intentions.

Monique Valcour describes 8 practical techniques you can apply to get a difficult interpersonal conversation “back on track”:
  1. SHIFT THE RELATIONSHIP from opposition to partnership.
    Place yourself in the other person's shoes.
  2. REFRAME YOUR PURPOSE from convincing to learning.
    Don't focus on making the other person adopt your view.
  3. VERBALIZE YOUR INTENTION.
    Tell explicitly what you are trying to achieve with the conversation.
  4. AVOID ASSUMPTIONS.
    Especially about what the other person is "probably" thinking.
  5. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PART.
    Admit you make/made mistakes too.
  6. LEARN YOUR ABCD'S.
    Avoid Blame, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.
  7. Examine difficult issues with OPENNESS AND CURIOSITY.
  8. SEEK INPUT to problem-solving.
    Ask for feedback.
⇒ In what way do you turn a problematic conversation into a more positive one? Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips...

Source: Monique Valcour, "Eight Ways to get a Difficult Conversation Back on Track", HBR Fall 2018, pp.14-15.
 

 
Prescription to Civil Intelligence
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
Reducing combative and confrontational discussions is really needed. Today's professional and social environment is being fed this ugly confrontational behavior as a required manner of exchange between individuals.
The "8 ways to get a difficult conversation back on track" is a fantastic prescription to create a more civil way of interacting professionally. Living in civility is much needed if we are to embrace the value of "relationships". In order to have a true relationship, be it personal or professional, we must be civil and de-escalate potential powder kegs during professional exchanges.
Those that employ the barbaric behavior of power are relics that should go back to the stone ages. People want to be respected whether you agree or disagree.
As such, this small prescriptive message is powerful in many ways. Let's display it in our professional lives as well as our personal lives. Remember, we are role models as leaders - 24 hours a day.
 

 
The Role of Power in Interpersonal Conflicts
Sandra Osbon, Entrepreneur, United States, Member
Rather than "being fed" an ugly behavior, Hocker and Wilmot (1978) argue that the system (professional and social environment) may be reflecting a struggle in process, and individual behaviors indicate a struggle with the system as a whole (p. 59).
Power in itself is not barbaric, but is according to Hocker and Wilmott (1978) a product of the interpersonal relationship, not of the individual, and is central to the study of conflict. It stems from people's mutual dependencies and it is always present. People balance power either productively or destructively, hopefully practicing the better exercise of productive power balancing" (pg. 70, 71).
Source: Hocker, J., Wilmot, W. (1978). Interpersonal Conflict (2nd Edition). DuBuque, IA: Wm Brown Pub.
 

 
Interpersonal Conflict Resolution
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Sandra Osbon: Thank you for suggesting the in-depth book on interpersonal conflicts by Hocker and Wilmot. According to the 10th Edition (2017), perception is at the core of conflict analysis.

WHAT IS AN INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT? DEFINITION
The authors define an interpersonal conflict as "an expressed struggle between at least two people (parties) who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from other(s) in achieving their goals".

Sometimes these conditions are (believed to be) true, but sorting out what is perceived and what is inter-personally accurate forms the basis of conflict analysis.

FIRST CONFLICT ANALYSIS
Careful attention to the elements that make up conflict will help you understand an apparently unresolvable conflict. When a conflict remains muddled and unclear, it cannot be resolved. When you first perceive that you are in conflict with somebody else, you may want to immediately get him/her to change. Usually, that initial attempt fails and you may feel hopeless. Instead, you will need to learn to change your own behavior.

THEN CONFLICT RESOLUTION
After conflict analysis is done, conflict resolution begins. Valcour's 8 ways are practical suggestions you can apply.

Source: Wilmot, William W., Hocker, Joyce L. (2017). Interpersonal Conflict (10th Edition), pp. 2-3, McGraw-Hill Education.
 

 
In a Conflict There is Always a 'Third' Person
Allemeersch, Interim Manager, Belgium, Member
In all conficts or discussions there is always a third person, even without being present. I refer to the environment. What will others think if I lose or if I win or both win or loose?
This third entitiy plays a big role in the resolving of the conflict. Identifying it or especially naming it, can help to resolve the problem faster.
 

 
Humanistic Bridge Building
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
There is a universal tendency in human behavior to use damaging language, like identifying something as a "PROBLEM", before really trying to find a solution.
Imagine a problem-solving process that celebrates what you do well, instead of one that concentrates primarily on your weaknesses. When a group or individuals focuses its attention on what it does well and tries to create more of those successes, the presenting problems recede, sometimes dramatically. This doesn't mean they get erased; the power of the negative diminishes when you choose a different set of lenses.

Focus on the good things or aspects of the work environment or project and manage whatever the issue that is the point of discussion as a challenge, is like building a bridge together versus stirring up an emotional diatribe. Speak to how the challenge on the bridge fits or doesn't fit into the quality of the organization or environment.
 

 
Streight Talking
kevin DAVIES, United Kingdom, Member
I agree with all that's been said and there are some very relevant principles announced in the tail.
However, specifically regarding the environmental person, in a fast paced business world, there is little time available for applying soft approaches, just plain talking. Managers reputations are reviewed on their ability to ensure product delivery. This leaves them little opportunity to induce increased levels of engagement in staff
It's not bullying or applying power inappropriately, as most managers today would welcome developing engagement and enthusiasm from their teams, but there is always the overriding pressure to get the job done efficiently, effectively and on budget.
Taking soft approaches may not always support these constraints. So the approach must always be balanced, which may reduce practical applications of these principles.
 

 
Reaction on #4: Verbalize your Intention
Andreas Sloma, Germany, Member
It is important to represent the given position well. This should be done with "fingerspitzengefühl" (Editor: ~careful, precise consideration). Your own needs and the recommended path should be emphasized. This should then be placed as a request and not as a demand on the other person.
I recommend also the work of Marshall Rosenberg with his nonviolent communication.
Rosenberg suggests:
You tell what facts you see. You describe your feelings about it. You tell your needs and ends with a request, and accept a no if it is expressed. But this is practically not in every time and situation possible to do.
 

 
Look for Coincidences in Difficult Interpersonal Conversations
Oscar Camey, Lecturer, United States, Member
Conflicts will always be present in the inter-relationship of people and this is natural, two or more people never think the same or have the same opinion. This normal opposition can have its escalation when it comes to decisions and if the resolution is not addressed, it can result in very difficult situations.
In the article it is perceived that one of the important conditions to reach the win-win is to approach the conflict by working on the COINCIDENCES (Editor: ~similarities, agreements)... In what way do people coincide in an important interrelation. Win-win is a professional attitude and coincidences help in this.
El conflicto siempre estarà presente en la inter-relación de las personas y esto es natural, nunca dos o más personas piensan igual o tienen la misma opinión. Esta normal contraposicion puede tener su escalamiento cuando se trata de decisiones y si no se aborda la resolución, puede llegar a situaciones muy difíciles.
En el artículo se percibe que una de las condiciones importantes para llegar al ganar-ganar se debe abordar el conflicto trabajando las COINCIDENCIAS... En qué coinciden las personas en una importante interelación. El ganar-ganar es una actitud profesional y en ello ayudan las coincidencias.
 

 
Resolving Conflict in Interpersonal Conversations
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Assuming this relates to differing points of view (pov) about a work concern, weave into the 8 points:
  • The acceptance that we want ‘conflict’ of ideas (sparking off/building on) without conflict of personality; so; do not use or respond to any language of aggression [point6].
  • Shift stance or seating so alongside rather than facing (aids moving relationship from confronting) [point 1].
  • Clarify what you both mean by your vocabulary and identify what you want to achieve.
  • Ensure that your referents for words and targets are the same [1,4] PRECISELY (no ambiguity).
  • Realistically and measurably until you understand and accept (not necessarily agree) a common point of view. Identify your differences [2,3].
  • FIRST identify what you LIKE (accept, agree with etc.) about the other person’s point of view [1] THEN express: “My CONCERN is How To…”, overcome the differences identified (easiest first). Some onus on other person to identify how to bridge the gap between you [8].
  • Bypass perceptions and communicate through the 'noise'.
 

     
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