Have you ever been caught off-guard by someone else’s words or actions? I have. Have you ever interrupted someone to correct them during a conflict situation only to discover that you were the one who made the mistake? I have. Have you ever responded so quickly to another person’s comment that you did not stop to think if you heard correctly? Well, I have done that as well.
We are all human. Many of us speak first and think second when we feel cornered, pressured, or otherwise threatened. This response is both normal and natural. Unfortunately, it is not always useful or necessary.
In working with my clients, my colleagues and my family on the issue of effectively resolving conflict, I consistently hear one frustration. People in Indiana have it. People in Georgia have it. People in Canada have it. People in Australia have it. My clients have it. My colleagues have it. My friends have it. My family has it. In fact, I have it. “It” is the difficulty of remembering how to proceed calmly when a conflict situation catches us unaware.
If we have the opportunity to plan for or anticipate a conflict conversation, we can prepare ourselves for what will happen and what problems might surface. When we get surprised by a conflict situation, our adrenal glands generally flood our blood stream with adrenaline. Once under the control of this chemical substance, rational thought often eludes us.
If I want to “practice what I preach” about conflict resolution, I have to constantly look for ways to improve my responses. I find that simple acronyms help me when the pressure hits and I don’t have time to really think about a situation. Preloading my mind with a four or five word model that triggers automatically keeps me more in control of my words, tone, and actions in those moments when I am hungry, angry, tired, or surprised by events.
I have developed a four letter acronym based on the word SOLD to help me in unanticipated conflict situations. There are no new concepts in this acronym. It just helps me to remember key concepts when my emotions flare. It goes like this:
Stop – Stop everything. Do not say or do anything. Resist the urge to speak. Stop your internal dialogue that immediately labels the other person as “wrong.”
Observe – What is the other person saying with their body language? What is their tone? Are they angry or are they hurt?
Listen – Listen carefully to their words. What is their intended meaning? Does what they say have merit? What is their perception? Even if you disagree with their interpretation of events, you will need to understand it before you respond.
Deliver – Deliver your response. To resolve a conflict, they also need to know what you are thinking. Hopefully your conscious effort to listen to them before you speak will do two things: give you time to think clearly and show that you care about their concerns.
Rather than trying to contrive some artificial way of thinking, I even make use of a natural (you might say selfish) thought pattern to remember the acronym. At the end of the confrontation, I want the other party to be SOLD on my viewpoint.
Interestingly enough, when I follow the first three steps, I may not need the fourth. In the process of Stopping, Observing, and Listening; I often learn something about the other person’s intended message that changes my perception from “this is a threat” to “this is a miscommunication.” Once my perception changes, I have the opportunity to move my thinking from my adrenal glands to my brain.
So for now, I encourage you to. . .
Stop, Observe, Listen, and Deliver