"Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflicts by peaceful means."

                                                                                                                    -Ronald Reagan                                                                                                                                                       

Conflicts are like the proverbial strong winds that strengthen the bamboo trees. Conflicts uncover what a person is made of; reveal the inner hoard of treasure and trash. Some people grow through conflicts and some are held back by the fear of them. You can't avoid conflicts, either with your better half or worst detractors. And even people in between. The only ways to avoid conflicts are to withdraw from engaging with anyone and anything or to be thoroughly prepared for conflicts. Plan in advance for the worst case scenario in any engagement. Indulge in a premortem of your impending engagement. Diffuse all the edginess and potential contentions. And, even if you think you have covered the grounds, I am willing to bet there will be a spontaneous surprise or two.

The safest bet is to expect conflicts. Just be ready with strategies to cool the heat, manage to alignment.

1. Turn down the heat

-At the start, agree on objectives and desired outcomes. Gently propose the terms of engagement: how are you going to go through the phases of discussion? Would all the questions be asked at the end of a proposal or is everyone free to jump in? Are we going to agree on everything or nothing or are we going to proceed with agreed portions and work on the rest later? How and who plays what role? How will the engagement be documented?

-And oh. Make sure that you are working on the right issues or conflicts.

-Find common grounds, no matter how small or insignificant. "I agree that..."if you find your self saying that, you are on the right track. Or,"Let's see how we can work this (part) out.." Or, " I think we can do this together..."

-Use the tip toe tones. "If I may ask a question...."  "Let's look at it this way..." "Let's take another look...." "We may have something there..." Cut any accusatory tones. Try not to use 'you.' We are prone to sound accusatory when we use 'you.'

-Jump over the fence. "I know how you feel about .....I felt the same way too..." and if you want to open a discussion on something, "however, when I examine it a bit more, I found that...." Don't hurry through. Take your time and don't sound cocksure, or domineering. Allow the person to agree, "what do you think?"

-Listen with respect. Nod and ask questions if you do not understand. Reframe a contentious phrase, not only to soothe the other person but also to calm you. "If I get this right. Donning a protective face gear means we have to wear a mask that covers our nose and mouth?"

-Remember to butt out the buts. 'But' kills all the good things you said before. Even if it is to lead to a concession, it would sound like an unwilling gesture.

-More than turning down the heat, you can cool the tone for the engagement by completely surrendering on a point in contention. If the other person expects you to hold fast to your position, you might overwhelm and confuse him, thus breaking down or at least soften the mental wall he built, coming to the meeting.

2. Sync your body with your mouth

NVC or Non Verbal Communication aka body language will make or break the verbal engagement. Your body speaks louder than your mouth. People believe more of how you behave than what you say. If you fold your arms across your chest and speak with gutters on your forehead, and say, "I am open to...." The other person will be thinking what you would be hitting him with next.

3. If you must insist, balance

-Certainly, you would not want to appear as a pushover. You would want to maintain your position on something and might even want to flick over a criticism or two. Just remember to attack the act and not the person. Make the person feel guilty about a behavior or act is constructive. You allow him to rectify the impact of his action. If you shame him by implying that he is bad as a person, he will work to become the person you described him to be. It might lead to withdrawal and a guerrilla campaign against you.

-Avoid going for the fatal, "You are always (negative behavior)" or "It's just like you to (negative behavior).."

-I think it was psychologist John Gottman who recommended that for every negative thing we say to our partner, for it not to destroy our relationship, we have to say five good things. It is always a good idea to sandwich. Whether five to one or three to one, it is always good to compliment more than criticize. For the relationship, and for your own mental health. 

4.Be realistic and pace

-Be realistic, you can't win everything all the time. And, somethings cannot be changed. If you have to leave it on the table, leave it on the table. You have to value the chance to re-engage. The battle won can sometimes be a war lost. There is always another day. There is always another way.

-One way to convince is to reduce to ridiculous. "We can do better than fight over one cent a day." "We will laugh at this incident...."

-Pace. Take short breaks and long breaks if needed. Take opportunity to do something nice. Favorite snacks are good ice-breakers for stalemates.

-You can't solve every issue. Some require the wisdom of others such as religion, investments (if you are not familiar), health (if you are not a health professional)...

5.Agree on the agreements and...

-Make sure you are on the same page as far as agreements and resolutions go..

-Agree on the nest steps and follow through.

-Ascertain that everything is off the chest...smoke out the residues if any. Ask, "Please help me think if anything escaped our focus..." "We successfully closed this, this and this...and we will follow up on this...is there anything else we have notcovered?"

-If situation permits and it is relevant, give each other a hug, a pat, a kiss or whatever; and celebrate.

We have successfully worked through a conflict resolution session. This five strategic steps process has helped us avoid messy confrontation. We are all good. Do you agree? 


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