Today I went to a seminar on managing conflict in the workplace. It was one of those things you do for "development," meaning you're not as good at as you ought to be, so you go listen to an expert tell you how to be better.
There's a reason I'm not good at dealing with conflict. I'm a Myers Briggs INFP, one of the defining characteristics of which is hating conflict. I really do want everyone to sit in a circle, join hands and sing Kumbaya, but if I can't get that, I at least want people to not yell at each other. When the araguing begins, I try to become one with the wallpaper and disappear.
But temperament preferences are not excuses, and I'm all for improvement, so away I went in search of techniques to face my fear of conflict, hoping I wouldn't have to pretend to be tough and unyielding in some some public role-playing exercise.
So imagine my surprise when the expert opened with a review of five different strategies for dealing with conflict, one of which was -- avoidance! Plus something else I know I can do -- accommodation! And collaboration! Each an appropriate action in certain circumstances... Okay, so I'm not so good at some of the other strategies more appropriate in other situations. But at least I don't start with a complete lack of relevant skills.
The next section of the seminar was about how being tough and unyielding, pushing your solution, is what people often think they need to do. But that usually doesn't work because it only causes your adversary to be tough, unyielding and committed to their own (different) solution.
What to do instead, according to this expert? Listen. Listen without judgment or defensiveness. Listen for clues to what your adversary's real interests are -- often something much deeper than what they're saying. Listen for places where your interests align with theirs, and begin with that common ground. (Sort of like the marching orders Obama has given George Mitchell as he heads off to the Middle East...)
You mean I don't necessarily have to be good at being tough and strident to be moderately adequate at dealing with conflict?
You mean, I might already know how to do at least some of this?
Sometimes, the value of a seminar is not in learning something new, so much as learning to give yourself credit for what you already know.