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Mastering Conflict Resolution

In the dance of collaboration, stepping on each other’s toes is inevitable. How we navigate these missteps through conflict resolution can make or break the partnership. Effective conflict resolution strategies are key to maintaining a healthy working relationship and ensuring project success. 

Sterling & Stone and Johnny parted ways in late 2023 after a decade of creative and professional collaboration. What could have been an emotional apocalypse ended up being a freinassance for both of us. 

Here are some simple strategies to navigate disagreements constructively:

  • Address Conflicts Early: Ignoring conflicts can lead to bigger issues down the line. Address disagreements as soon as they arise.
  • Focus on the Issue, Not the Person: Keep discussions objective by focusing on behaviors and project outcomes.
  • Seek to Understand Before Being Understood: Practice active listening to fully understand the other person’s perspective.
  • Explore All Options: Look for solutions that address the concerns of all parties involved. Often, a compromise can be reached that satisfies everyone.
  • Agree to Disagree When Necessary: Not all conflicts will have a clear resolution. In such cases, agreeing to disagree respectfully can be the best course of action.

Understand how your conversational style meshes with the other person’s style, and speak to them in their language when possible. Do you prefer to argue from facts, or do you prefer to make your point with a story? Do you like to break things down analytically, or do you understand the world through analogies and metaphors? Do you like your touchy-feely conversations, or are you restrained? Brusque, even? 

If your collaborator needs facts to be persuaded that your course of action is a good idea, or they struggle with a detailed analysis but grasp analogies immediately, it’s worth trying to communicate your perspective in the style that’s natural for them.

If the other person has asked you for something, give them a clear yes or no. Don’t be vague and hope that they won’t follow up later, or pretend you’ll do something that you’re reluctant to do. If you aren’t sure whether or not you can help, let them know you’ll respond, and be sure you do give them an answer when you promised to. If you’re getting pressure to do something you don’t want to, set boundaries, even if it means having a difficult conversation.

Recognize that the other person might need a different level of detail than you do. Some people want to understand how you came to a conclusion, and others might just want the conclusion. Likewise, you might want to hear others’ reasoning or the context for their opinion, but they might feel pressured or attacked if you start digging for their why. 

If you’re having a conversation where the other person is showing signs of impatience with your analysis, or they’re getting defensive in response to your questions, you might want switch to a different level of detail. You may also want to connect with the other person by saying something like, “Sorry, I realize that I’m getting a little too deep into the weeds,” or “I appreciate your patience, it helps me to understand the context around this decision.” 

If the conversation isn’t going well, try to get back to common ground. Once you’ve figured out what that common ground is, ask the other person, “Can we agree that X is true?” Or, “Is it still true that Y is our goal?” 

Avoid passive-aggressive conversational tactics. These include pretending not to hear something that you don’t want to hear, deflecting the conversation away from things that are painful to discuss, denying that you’re upset about something, or making the other person guess what they’ve done to hurt your feelings. These tactics all leave you stewing in resentment that will poison the collaboration and make it harder to resolve problems when you can no longer contain your indignation. 

When talking about something that’s bothering you, don’t complain or criticize the other person. Describe what’s happening as specifically as you can, then explain how it makes you feel. Give the other person an opportunity to see how their actions are affecting you without feeling blamed. If their actions were intentional, ask what need the action is fulfilling for them — resolving the conflict becomes easier if you can find another way for the person to get that need met. 

If you’re coming to the other person with a problem, don’t just dump it in their lap. If you see a possible solution, give them that too. If you can’t see one, tell them what you’ve already done to try to solve the problem. If you don’t even know where to start, define the issue as clearly as you can. Whatever you can do to be an active participant in the problem-solving process makes you easier to collaborate with.

Remember that collaboration is not compromise. You should always be looking for the win-win, never for the lose-lose: the compromise where the only satisfaction available to you is that the other person didn’t get what they wanted either.

Assume good intentions unless you have irrefutable evidence that the other person is acting in bad faith. Most miscommunication is unintentional — one or both parties have been misunderstood or have failed to be clear about what they want. If you give the other person the benefit of the doubt, you’re increasing your changes of resolving the miscommunication without hurt feelings. 

If you’re following all these best practices and you’re still experiencing regular miscommunication, it might be a sign that the two of you want really different things, or that there’s a deeper issue that needs to be resolved in the relationship. 

Recognizing the importance of assuming good intentions, you should also acknowledge that not all miscommunications can be resolved through positive assumptions alone. When persistent misunderstandings signal deeper discrepancies in goals or unresolved issues, transitioning into mastering conflict resolution becomes essential. 

Implementing these strategies can enhance communication, streamline collaboration, and foster a positive and productive work environment.

Recommended Resources for Deeper Learning

To further enhance your collaborative and communication skills, consider delving into these seminal works:

The art of communication is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Let the skills and strategies shared here be your guide as you navigate the rewarding path of collaboration. The most profound creations emerge from the harmony of well-synced minds. Challenge yourself to engage, listen, and constantly evolve.