Join Fred Kofman for an in-depth discussion in this video Finding a shared purpose, part of Fred Kofman on Managing Conflict.
- Conflict is a difficult conversation to have. Most of us think it's difficult because of the inherent qualities of the conversation. But difficult is the opinion that people have when they don't know how to do it. The conversation itself is not difficult but we approach the conversation with the wrong frame of mind and with the wrong tools. So, lets start with a frame of mind. The typical purpose in a conflict conversation when I walk in I'm thinking, "My goal is to prove to you "that I'm right, you're wrong, "and you ought to do "what I'm telling you to do.
"I want to win and I want you to lose." In a long-term relationship that's not possible. There's no such thing as winning a fight in a relationship. The moment you are fighting you've already lost. Whoever wins the other person is going to be resentful. So, achieving a resentful future opponent is not a victory, it's a bad outcome. Yet it's impossible to avoid that outcome just by the very way we frame the purpose of the conversation.
I want to win. I want you to lose. And I want you to do what I'm telling you to do. So, we need to change that. The first step in improving these conversations is to change your mind and walk in the conversation with a different perspective. And the perspective is, "I have to state a goal that you would agree with." Now, this sounds crazy as we're having a conflict because we have opposite goals. But that is not true. "Every conflict happens in the context of collaboration." If you didn't have a reason to collaborate you would not have a conflict.
So, think of any conflict. For example, lets say you and your spouse are arguing about where to go for a vacation. It looks like you have the opposing views. You want to go to the mountains. She wants to go to the sea. You want to go to the warm weather. He wants to go to the cold. And so, okay, we're at odds. But there's a deeper context of collaboration, both of you want to go together. You're trying to decide where to go together.
You want to have a relationship that stays. And then, there's a choice, "Where do we go together?" But the togetherness is more important than where, otherwise, you wouldn't be in a relationship. This is general. So, every time you have a conflict with a person, it's relevant to ask yourself, what is the largest purpose where we need to collaborate and within which the conflict arises. So, at work, let just say, I'm a salesperson and I want to make the sale.
And you're in compliance and you say that the credit checks for the customer are not ready. And now, where at odds because I want to close the sale and you're saying, "We can't close the sale," and we could have a very heated conversation where I would say, "My goal is to make the sale. "And your goal is not to allow "a bad credit situation that's going to be "an unrecoverable debt." We have a larger purpose together which is to achieve the mission of the company.
We're both working for the same company, we want to achieve the goal. To achieve the goal, we have different roles. And because we have different roles we have different perspectives on what would be the best thing to do. But our conflict is not absolute. Our conflict is relative to a larger purpose of collaboration. So, the first step of solving any conflict is to see the conflict as a potential collaboration and to frame it like that. So, to start the conversation by saying, "Look, my goal in this conversation "is for you and I to agree "on what would be the best way "to manage this client." Or, "My goal is for you and I to agree "on what would be the best vacation we could take together." But that is not opposing one another but it's actually putting the two people together to solve a problem.
That frame dissolves 90% of the acrimony in the conflict. Because now, we are side-by-side, we both agree on what we're trying to do and now, we'll see what's the best way to do it if we can find it. So then, we go to the next level. And the next level, what are the steps, what are the subgoals in this conversation? The typical subgoals is, "You shut up, I tell you what's right "and then you do it." Those are the three things I want in conversation. First, keep you quiet. Second, convince you I'm right and you're wrong.
And third, make you do what I want you to do. Of course, if you tell me that I would push back. And that's the situation of push and push back that gets us stuck where nobody gets anything done. The alternative is very simple. There are only four things you can want in a conflict. Any other thing is going to lead you astray. So, I would say in any conflict conversation there are four goals that if you pursue and you accomplish them, you will resolve it always. The first goal is to listen and understand to what that other person thinks and feels.
So, I could tell that my first goal is to understand how you think and what do you feel about this? No conflict there. My second goal is to explain to you how I think and why I feel the way I feel, so you can understand where I'm coming from. No conflict there. The third goal is for us to discuss is there a way we can come together with mutual benefit? Can we find an integration of your perspective and my perspective that would lead us down a path that is better for both us than separating.
I don't know, but that's a worthy thing to do together. We're problem solving together. And the fourth one is let's make sure that once we agree on something we make commitments and we get it done. Okay, if we agree, there's no conflict in getting it done. So, these are the four goals. I want to listen and understand where you're coming from. What's your perspective? I would like you to understand what my perspective is, so I like to explain it to you. I like for both of us to find opportunities for mutual gain in this transaction.
And I like to make clear commitments about who is going to do what, why, when, so whatever we decide, we get it done. Those are the only four things that are going to keep you in the rails of the conversation. Any other goal will derail you and put you back in the conflict situation. So, the purpose is to collaborate not to fight. We disagree about things, so we're going to follow these four goals and find a way to solve the conflict.
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