Dealing effectively with conflict requires a collaborative mindset.  When we run into conflict with others, we tend to adopt a position of either being assertive or co-operative, but this can lead to win-lose outcomes.  A mix of both sets of behaviours can lead to true collaboration and win-win outcomes.  I call this the “give and take” of communication – Peter Senge calls it advocacy (how you make statements) and enquiry (how you ask questions).

Low to High Advocacy and Enquiry

Here are some tips for collaborative behaviour:

Being assertive – advocating your point of view

  • State your point of view assertively but not aggressively (“I think”, “I’d like”, “My opinion is…”)
  • Explain your thinking and give examples
  • Share your reasoning and encourage challenge
  • Use AND not BUT to bridge to your point of view – “but” negates what has gone before while “and” puts the two points of view alongside instead of opposite to each other (compare the impact of replying “Yes, but…” with “Yes, and….”)
  • Avoid NEVER and ALWAYS when you are describing someone else’s behaviour, as this is likely to lead to an emotional reaction and escalation of conflict (it is factually unlikely that they never, or always do something )
  • Avoid SHOULD and OUGHT – most people don’t like being told what to do
  • Avoid phrases like “with respect” and “I hear what you say, but..” – these are big red flags that you are about to disagree with them
  • When trying to find common ground, ask “would you be willing to…” – most people don’t like to be regarded as “unwilling”. 

Being co-operative – enquiring about their position – to fully understand and appreciate it

  • Listen to what they are really saying and show you are listening
  • Paraphrase their argument to check you have understood it
  • Pause after paraphrasing rather than rushing straight in with a counter-argument
  • Use open questions, (WHAT and HOW) to understand their point of view and probe their thinking further
  • Avoid asking questions beginning with WHY, as this usually gets a defensive reaction
  • Don’t state objections – instead, ask for clarification, seek ideas and make suggestions
  • Consider the problem from their perspective – put yourself in their shoes, rather than sticking firmly in your own
  • Whenever you can find common ground, make it clear that you agree
  • Switch from the past or present tense to the future – what are we going to do, how can we stop this happening again