Do you have conflict at work? Do you wish people understood things more clearly, and more often from your point of view? Then here’s your most important first step.
At home it’s time to do a semi-major housecleaning. Every time Handsome Husband (HH) and I clean house together I get a little agitated. I make a list of things for HH to do for us: clean the porch furniture, wash windows on the outside, clear up the garage, get the cobwebs, wash the doormats, etc. He does his list willingly and cheerfully, but I wish he’d do it more quickly. Doesn’t he know his list is a lot shorter and less complicated than my list? Can’t he tell I’d like him to go faster, then help me?
Resolving The Conflict – a Simple Example
He cheerfully does his list. I, not so cheerfully, do mine. I act agitated, full of conflict. Why is there conflict? Because I want him to finish his shorter list and help me; that is my objective for him. He has his own objective. He doesn’t know I have one for him.
Objectives We Do Not Share
A wise person once said, “Conflict arises when people are in pursuit of objectives they do not share.” Bingo! We are pursuing two different objectives. He doesn’t even know I have one for him. No wonder I’m muttering. I haven’t told him my objective for him let alone asked him to agree with it. We are in pursuit of objectives we do not share.
“Share” Doesn’t Just Mean “Tell”
Please note, “share” in this axiom doesn’t mean “tell”, as in, “let me share this with you”. In this axiom, “share” means to “hold the same opinion”, to “hold in common”. HH and I were in pursuit of objectives we do not share, do not hold in common. Next time, I’ll have to own up to the fact that I have an objective for him (sometimes we hold these objectives subconsciously and have to force them out into the light). I have to ask him to agree to my objective for him. He might not, so then we’ll use fact-finding, give-and-take, trade-offs, compromise, prioritization, scheduling, “ask, don’t tell” and other methods of coming to agreement.
Conflicts At Work
This is a simple example of different objectives remaining unspoken, unagreed-to. But aren’t a lot of the conflicts at work just as simple? Conflicts caused by different objectives, remaining unspoken?
The objectives themselves may not be simple, getting agreement may not be simple, but it’s simple to see why you’re in conflict. You want two completely different things, but you haven’t discovered that yet. The conflict is not personal, it’s not vindictive, the other person’s not stupid or hard-headed. Rather, you are in pursuit of objectives you do not share.
You Can Resolve the Conflict
A friend of mine says “sometimes we’ll be the only ones in the room who know what’s going on”. Do you see how that advice can work here? Really look at the conflicts around you and you’ll see it’s the objectives that are in conflict, not the people.
Discover The Objectives
Have everyone in the conflict speak their objective, namely, their preferred outcome and preferred method. Everyone will be surprised at how different the objectives are. Everyone might also be surprised at how easily and well the objectives can be melded together and all satisfied once they’re spoken aloud. It’s a particular pleasure when one objective influences another, makes it clearer, asks hard questions, or makes the other one easier to achieve. It’s a pleasure to watch the two people in conflict have a lightbulb moment.
What If They Can’t Be Resolved?
Some objectives can’t be melded together or won’t be satisfied by the final agreement, but perhaps they can be deferred and satisfied later. Or pursued in parallel by another group. Or more fact-finding will show one’s unnecessary or redundant. One thing is for sure: the ways to satisfy the objectives can only be found when the objectives are spoken.
Please remember it’s often true that, when two people are in conflict, all it means is that they are in pursuit of objectives they do not share. Now I’m ready to get HH to agree to hurry his list and help me with mine.
I’ve seen this first and most important step to conflict resolution work very effectively at the office and at home. Do you think it would work at your office? Please click “comment” above and tell us how you would put it to use.
What do you think will be the best way to make sure others speak their objectives out loud?