Welcome back to the next step in the I. N.E.E.D. conflict resolution process. If you missed the other posts, or just need a refresher, here are some links:
Part 1 - Identify
Part 2 - Need
Now that we have identified the problem and we know what we need for a proper resolution, it's time to explore the details and emotions that underlie this conflict. To do that we need to "Explore":
Why we feel the way we do about the action/behavior/situation
What we think the other person (or persons) might feel about it
Why the other person feels it's okay to do it? (or are they even aware of it?)
Why this action/behavior/situation has happened (or keeps happening)?
In order to arrive at the answers to these questions, ask yourself the following key questions:
"Why does this bother me?" If we go back to our "loud talker" example from the previous posts - why does the noise bother me? Is it impacting my work and the work of others? Once you know this, it makes it focuses your conflict by making it more specific - and being less about "you" and more about "the impact of the action/behavior/situation." It's easier to explain and discuss this with the other party because, once again, it isn't about blame - it's about result.
"Why didn't I say something as it happened?" This question can yield some useful insights. Did the event only bother you after the fact because of the result it caused? Perhaps, then, the conflict is more about how that then the actual behavior. In this case, you might approach the problem differently than if the behavior directly caused the problem. For example, there is a difference between a loud employee distracting you and irritating you in the moment vs. you enjoying the loud employee's antics, only to discover you missed a key number in a spreadsheet because of it? Depending on your answer, you will reframe your approach with them.
"Why haven't I said anything about this before?" If this has happened before, why haven't you said something? Was it because it didn't cause a serious problem before? Was it because you were scared to approach them for some reason? Your answer to these questions will help you to explain yourself to the other party involved.
"Do I do this?” (If so, "Why?") This is an introspective question designed to help humanize the other person. If you have done this before (and you probably have in some form) you can better empathize with them. If you think of the other person as just that - a person - it's easier to separate them from the problem. This is important in conflict resolution.
"Does it bother me when other people (other than this person) do this? Why or why not?" This question can help you discover if you have a bias against someone. It requires you to be honest, but that honesty - that transparency - is what will help you make the source of your conflict an ally instead of an adversary. If you can determine that other people do this…and it doesn't bother you when they do it, then you can start to ask yourself a deeper question, "Why?" And this leads you down a rabbit hole to find the real cause of the conflict.
And, "Why?" is in some ways the ultimate question. If you've studied sales or read Dan Pink's book, "To Sell is Human," you've heard of the 5 Why's - ask why up to 5 times in order to get to the heart of the answer. Most of the time, our initial answer is just a surface level answer (or a throw away answer designed to protect us in some way). By following up answers with questions like:
"Why is that?"
"Why do you feel that way?"
"That's interesting - why have you drawn that conclusion?
You can get to the real heart of the issue. I call this the ABC's of Conflict Resolution (and sales and…well…life). Always. Be. Curious. Curiosity is the salve of conflict, the secret to sales, and the secret to becoming a great conversationalist. Be curious - people love to talk about themselves. Questions are your greatest currency - spend them like crazy!
One of the initial questions coined above was, "Why do they feel this is okay?" This is another powerful question that humanizes the person you are trying to approach. Here is a real-life example I've encountered in my career.
Employee 1: As we've been discussing this challenge of noise and being loud do you have any idea as to why you haven't thought about it before?
Employee 2: I really don't. I mean, I've always been told that I'm loud, but I can't really say I've thought about it. I think I'm just naturally loud.
Employee 1: That's interesting, actually - why do you feel you are loud?
Employee 2: Again…I really don't think I've ever thought about it before. I mean, I was in theater when I was younger and we were encouraged to be loud, so I guess it could be because of having to project on the stage maybe?
Employee 1: I see - well, why do you think that's carried over into your work life?
Employee 2: Hmm. Well, when I was younger I was quieter and really shy. I went into theater to find my voice and be heard. I was good at it too! I suppose I liked the way that felt and maybe I've carried it over into every aspect of my life?
As you can see - all it took was three whys for us to get to the heart of the issue - and it got a little unexpectedly deep fast. By knowing "Why" a person does what they do, you can better help to find a solution. Better yet - by acknowledging their reasoning as "real" you show that you care about more than just solving the conflict - you care about them as a person. And that is even more important when trying to overcome conflicts because they'll be more open to work with you on the problem.
We are now officially more than half way through this process. In our next post we'll discuss E.A.R. which is short for: Explain, Ask Questions, and Restate/Repeat. Until then, make today great!