Conflict Is Inevitable...But Resolution Is Attainable

A practical strategy to adopt for healthier conflict resolution leading to outcomes that are amicable and respectful.

This week, Anna has written some great insights on conflict management. As she states, conflict is hard, and I believe the executive and executive assistant relationship is one of the most challenging relationships to have conflict in. This partnership works so closely together and both sides want to avoid anything that could slow down the critical work that needs to be done. This desire to keep the peace can lead you to ignore things that need to be brought up and may result in conflict. However, some of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had with my assistants often became the most powerful to build trust and strengthen our partnership. Having a framework like what Anna outlines below can give you the confidence to resolve a conflict that you know needs to be dealt with. By using Anna’s advice below, you will significantly increase the odds that the difficult situation you’re facing can be transformed into a positive building block to an improved working relationship.

Don Harms

 Don Harms, Emmre Founder & CEO

This blog post is themed around resolving conflict. I am grateful you’re here reading this post. However, I want to help set expectations that this will not answer all the questions or give a magic formula. Why? Because conflict is hard. There is nothing ‘easy’ about it. The entire process from start to finish is messy, and no two conflicts are the same. This blog post will be more focused on the practices you can adopt to have healthy conflict, hold tension with confidence, and lead others to resolutions that are amicable and respectful.

I work with a lot of relationships between leaders and executive assistants, and as you’d imagine, conflict regularly arises. Conflict is rooted in things like miscommunication, unclear expectations, or most basically - humanity. We are all creatures of conflict. It’s not about ‘if’ we find ourselves in a conflict, but ‘when’ we find ourselves in a conflict. As you feel the tides of a relationship ramping up into a tidal wave of conflict, what is your first response? Do you gossip to a co-worker? Do you sit in frustration allowing yourself to get more upset? Do you shut down, and give others the cold shoulder? It can be hard to know how to “tease out” those emotions, but I would encourage you to try these three things next time you find yourself staring down Conflict Avenue: 

1. Write down your feelings.
2. Go directly to the source of your conflict.
3. Engage in dialogue, not monologue. 

1. Write Down Your Feelings.

I know this might feel silly or like a waste of time, but please trust me when I say - taking a little extra time to organize your thoughts, feelings, and emotions is never a bad idea. When you are feeling overwhelmed by frustration, it can be very hard to discern all the many elements involved in the story of your conflict. As I have spent time helping others work through conflict, one of the biggest issues I have been able to identify is that a reactive response leads to a bigger wound. I regularly encourage others as they share frustrations with me to give the conflict a bird’s eye view and start the process of writing out what they can identify. Then, read it. And read it again. And leave the reactive emotions on the paper while building a communication plan that moves you to our next point… 

2. Go Directly To The Source. 

This is an age-old recommendation for conflict management, but it rings just as true today as it did when you were in kindergarten learning how to be a friend. If you find yourself having an issue with another person (and you will) - that other person is the person you need to be discussing this problem with. The most respectful and professional way to manage conflict is by inviting the other offenders into the dialogue regarding the problem and being open-minded to finding a solution collectively. There will always be more than one perspective in conflict management, and creating a habit of recognizing when others are frustrated and hurt too is a great starting point towards regaining trust, rebuilding what is broken, and letting wounds heal and scar over. 

3. Engage In Dialogue, Not Just A Monologue. 

This might be the most difficult point to encourage in conflict management. It can be so easy to call the person you’re frustrated with and just start talking…then 12 minutes later, you suddenly realize you are still talking and the other person has said nothing. I know. This is hard. The process of gearing up to confront the conflict invites a flood of adrenaline so by the time the conversation is actually happening in real-time, you are in GO MODE. I coach through this often, and I encourage a structure of conversation like this: 

  • Lead with gratitude. (You WILL have something to be grateful for!)
  • Acknowledge the conflict…call it out! 
  • Ask the other person or people if they’ve felt the same frustration or tension over this conflict or if they have a different perspective.
  • Share concise and summarized feelings, then allow the other parties to do the same.
  • Invite all parties involved to brainstorm ways to fix the problems and move forward. Think through apologies you owe others and ways you could make adjustments moving forward. 

You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but no conflict strategy ever works exactly how it’s outlined.” You’re right. Conflict management will never go exactly according to plan, BUT having a plan and having a handle on your emotions is the best starting point toward resolution. I will add a reminder that if the other party(s) are not interested in a respectful and collective conflict management strategy, the best option is to abort the mission and revisit when all involved are ready to engage. 

Do you have any great conflict management strategies to share below? 

Emmre - Software for Assistants and Leaders

Emmre is executive assistant software created by an executive and assistant for executives and assistants. Emmre's mission is to help supercharge productivity and maximize the strategic partnership between executives and executive assistants.

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