How to deal with conflict assertively

Mastering conflict in the workplace means finding a balance between being passive and aggressive, says a leadership development expert

How to deal with conflict assertively
According to a leadership development expert, people often handle conflict in one of two ways – either aggressively or passively.

But either one of these attitudes yield negative results, he said.

“People who are too aggressive in conflict situations harm their performance by upsetting and alienating their peers, while people who are too passive at handling conflict hinder their ability to reach their goals,” said Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of consulting firm TalentSmart.

In his article at Forbes, he said that the real secret lies in finding the right balance between these two extreme attitudes and said assertiveness is a trait emotionally intelligent people possess in abundance.

He listed down six strategies that workers can use in order to master conflict in a healthy and positive way.

Speak up 
Most people’s go-to reaction during a tense situation is to clam up, said Bradberry, but keeping quiet might actually cause more problems in the long run. Motivate yourself to speak up by considering the consequences of what would happen if you don’t.

Use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ when stating your argument
When you use the word ‘but’ to connect two thought such as, “I see that you want to use the money for marketing but I think we need to make a new hire”, it lessens the importance of what they’re saying. Instead change it to ‘and’ to make them feel like you’re working with them, not against them, he said. It’s a subtle change with a big impact, he added.

‘Use hypotheticals’
Don’t be too aggressive and immediately poke holes into the other person’s argument or proposal. If you see a flaw in the project, use a hypothetical question to acknowledge their original idea while showing them that you’re willing to hear what they have to say, he said. 

Stop speaking in absolutes
Remove the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ from your vocabulary in a conflict situation. “No one always or never does anything,” he said. Defining the other party in absolutes shows that you only see them as one-dimensional, he said. Stick to the facts, instead, and point out exactly what you have a problem with. If, however, it is the frequency of their actions or behaviours that concerns you, use the word ‘often’, he advised.

Keep asking questions
“Failing to understand the motive behind someone’s behaviour throws fuel on the fire of conflict, because it makes everything they do appear foolish and short-sighted,” said Bradberry. Asking them questions is the easiest way to understand why they do what they do. He said that even if it come to a point where you truly cannot agree on a point, asking questions, at the very least, builds trust and understanding.

Offer solutions
Instead of just challenging their ideas, offer solutions, he said. “When you challenge someone’s idea, but also offer a solution, you demonstrate that you want to work together to come up with a fix. This reinforces the value of their idea, even if it’s full of holes,” he added.

The bottomline, he said, is that assertive people understand the importance of framing the message in the right way in order to show that they also value the other person’s input and feelings.

Related stories:

How to resolve conflicts in a ‘toxic’ workplace

HR urged not to ‘underestimate complexity’ of managerial roles

Seven things to know about office politics

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