I don’t know how to say this with the appropriate amount of emphasis that it deserves, but people…including myself…need to acknowledge, accept, and learn how to effectively approach a conversation of conflict or disagreement with others.
I know I’m saying that in an awkward overly-professional sort of way, but I have to because I have real difficulty with people that lack this social skill. It’s something that Ben and I have been talking through and practicing, despite how truly hard and challenging it is, for many years now. While we’re far from being “great” at it, we’ve gotten so much better at on the many different levels of it.
I guess I think it’s so important because when you have an issue with someone, the way you handle it can either take the situation to a more positive, productive place, or it can send you and the other party in the total opposite direction doing serious damage and causing you both to come out of it in a much, much worse place than when you went into it in the first place.
My head is spinning so hard right now it might just pop right off my body trying to zero in on the biggest, most impactful parts of what we can just call “conflict management”, but here’s a few of the big ones.
- There are situations that warrant confrontation, and situations that are just best walked away from. You don’t need to address every situation that comes across your lap. It doesn’t make you a push-over, it doesn’t make you weak for not confronting someone, and it doesn’t mean that the other person “got away with something” just because you chose not to have the conversation in the first place. You do not need to “set an example”, “educate someone on how to be appropriate”, or “teach them a lesson” if it’s something that could simply have been a misunderstanding or potentially an accident. If someone drops a barbell at CFNE and splits a bumper plate, it’s totally unnecessary and out of place for us to go up to that person and say, “Wow, Kelly. You really shouldn’t have dropped that barbell like that, especially given the fact that it cost us $115. Now, we’ll be short a plate and have to spend all that money to replace it.” Now, I get it if it’s someone who has a history of breaking equipment and regularly treats things carelessly. But, if it’s something that seems out of the ordinary or odd behavior for a normally regular person, that is something that just should never be brought up in the first place. Yes, it’s a bummer. But, the person probably had no idea that dropping a 45# bar with 10# plates on it would likely cause damage to the equipment.
- Now, taking that same example, you could definitely say that that person should be told with some level of finesse that the situation could’ve been avoided. But, it certainly doesn’t need to happen at that very moment…or, even that same day. That conversation could much more appropriately be had days after so as not to make the person feel like you’re attacking them by coming after them right after the fact. Timing isn’t “everything”, but it’s pretty close to it.
- One of the things Ben and I talk about all the time with regards to this topic is taking ownership. In every conflict, both parties have some level of involvement. This is the one we both have to stop and think about before we even open our mouths because, of course, when someone does something that bothers you for whatever reason, it’s really hard to imagine that you’ve done anything to cause or not prevent their behavior. It’s their fault, not yours. Right? Not totally. It’s always a little your fault, too. Always. In that previous example, at the appropriate time, a great way of addressing the athlete that broke the bumper plate might’ve been something like, “Hey, Kelly! Listen, no worries about the bumper plate. It happens. We should’ve done a better job of telling and reminding you guys that that can happen when dropping bars from overhead. Next time, maybe use a #15 bar with 2 25# plates so the weight gets spread out better. That usually helps. But, we should’ve told you guys that before we got started.” Do you see that that conversation makes Kelly want to do it differently next time and not feel like her coach was coming after her for screwing up. Kelly feels like she actually learned something, instead of never wanting to come back to class because her coach just simply didn’t say it all the right way. Starting a conversation like this off with you taking some of the blame immediately makes the other person want to take their boxing gloves off and listen and work with you. Going right at them makes them put up their shields and draw their swords.
I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to dilute those 3 points that I think are hard enough to work on and get better at. I’m telling you, working on this stuff is one of the hardest areas to work on because the only way to really get better is to practice it. But, the only way to practice it is in the heat of a confrontation…when emotions are high and hindsight is where we all usually end up finding clarity…which is a little too late, in most cases.
But, the one thing I can promise you is that the better you get at conflict management, the fewer conflicts you end up having in the first place.
The goal isn’t to get really good at confrontations.
The goal is to avoid confrontations in the first place.
The goal is to recognize the difference between conflicts that require a confrontation and those that don’t.
The goal is to handle a “conflict” by not making it feel like a confrontation at all, when both people walk away feeling better than they did going into the conversation.
OK, now I’m done.