I am not always “on my game.” Teaching conflict resolution, problem solving, interaction dynamics, and leadership skills does not make me perfect at applying them. It does make me aware, and that awareness helps me to correct my thinking more quickly. It also makes me work on practicing the skills so that I keep getting better.
And still, I have moments of insight about myself, my thinking, and my conflict approaches that are new. I'll share a recent insight with you that I hope also helps you. First, two quick scenarios to frame the insight:
Scenario Number One:
A few days ago, a colleague of mine received a request from a customer to address a challenge, and she did not have all of the information necessary to fix the problem. As she sought information to solve the customer's problem, she contacted a third person who she thought would have the information and authority to correct it, and she got, from her perspective, no real assistance.
Out of frustration and near desperation, she called me to see if I could offer any insights or perspective that could help her to address the customer's issue.
As we talked through the scenario and the various techniques she could use to move the situation towards resolution, I had what my father calls “a blinding flash of the obvious”:
I could fix the problem for her!
Scenario Number Two:
I received an email from a person who had some challenges accessing information at the Bud to Boss Community for leaders. This is the community that Kevin Eikenberry, my co-author, friend and colleague, and I launched to support readers of our book, From Bud to Boss. I really like tech stuff, like building websites, so I take care of many technical details related to that community.
As I was composing the email to let the person know how to fix her problem, I had another blinding flash of the obvious:
I could fix the problem for her!
In both cases, I entered the situation with a “Here's the information you can use to fix your own problem” mindset. In both cases, moving to a “How can I fix this for you?” approach lead to quick resolution, clearer communication, and less conflict as I took a few immediate actions to correct the problems.
There are many situations — in coaching, parenting, and performance management for example — when the approach I started with is a better long-term answer. And, there are many situations where this approach can lead to further conflict because it fails to address the real frustration felt by the other person. Most situations have a bit of both the need for an immediate fix and some coaching about how to avoid or correct the problem in the future.
The first scenario fell in the category of having elements of both quick fix and long-term solution thinking. The second one only needed an immediate fix.
Both scenarios illustrate two key concepts to remember if you want to head-off conflicts before they start:
1. Beware of using your strengths to excess
I am logical, analytical, and relatively patient. I am good at collecting information, analyzing it, and recommending solutions to problems. I like to help other people solve their own problems so that I can equip them to better handle similar situations in the future.
That same strength, carried to excess, can sometimes stop me from taking immediate action to solve the problem and move on.
2. Ask yourself better questions
In both situations, I was initially thinking “How can I help them fix their problem?”
Somewhere in the middle of both interactions, I shifted to “How can I fix their problem for them?”
The first question probably relates to the first point I made about my strength carried to excess, and it reveals a subtle flaw in my thinking. While I wasn't consciously thinking this way, I now realize that the first question carries a bit of “How can I avoid getting involved so that they will go away and leave me alone?” thinking in it.
The second question is a deeper level of personal responsibility than the first. It implies personal involvement and action rather than detached analysis and suggestion.
Here are the questions I ask you to consider as you work to apply the lessons from my insights about myself:
- Where are you using your strengths to excess so that they become a source of conflict rather than a resolution for conflict?, and
- How can you rephrase the questions that you ask yourself so that you become an active problem solver before conflicts escalate?