We are about to embark in the penultimate step of 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
Part 3 - Explore
This step is a bit of a cheat…as it's an acronym within an acronym, but I think we can allow it because it's super easy to remember. E.A.R. stands for:
This is the meat of conflict resolution while you can use this process to formulate your own thoughts and ideas (by running them through each step of E.A.R. until they are as concise as possible), it is primarily useful during a conversation. Let's walk through each step in this sub-process along with some useful tips to consider along the way.
Explain: During the conversation one (or both) sides need to explain themselves because…well, otherwise you'll never get anywhere. To do this you need to consider a few things. For one, you need to be aware of how to best start the process.
To do that, you need to consider Band-Aids and soft serve ice cream. Okay, even as I write that that sounds crazy, but here me out. What's the best way to rip off an adhesive strip? To just do it fast, right? This avoids prolonged pain and misery. Sometimes, this is the best way to dip into conflict - just lay your cards on the table and go. Other times, you have to be a little more gentle, like soft serve ice cream. You need to offer up some prep that a conflict is about to happen, so they can brace themselves for the impact. But which of these do you choose? Both of them are valid the key in most scenarios, is to choose the way that the OTHER person will respond best to. Meaning - you may want to rip that band-aid right off, but the other person may require some old-fashioned soft serve in order to receive the message. Don't do what's best for you, choose what they need. Going along with this, you have to choose between being direct and indirect. For example, you can simply say, "You are loud," or say, "I'm having this challenge with noise.” The choice varies, but you need to figure out which is best. The key is to always choose to discuss the behavior, event, or situation and not (in most cases) the individual. Here are some phrases to try for the Indirect approach:
"I have a challenge…"
"I need some advice…"
"Could you help me with something…"
It's also important to consider your approach as far as how you say things and deal with things as they occur. Here is a list of some things to consider:
The role of identity. Be wary of saying anything that might put them on the defensive based on how they view themselves. What do I mean? If I consider myself a good manager, and you tell me I did something that makes me infer (even indirectly) that I am not a good manager - I'm going to be on the defensive. Similarly, if someone thinks of themselves as a good person - and you call that into question, you've lost the battle before you really got started. So, if you are in a discussion and you find yourself suddenly getting defensive - take a step back and ask, "Why?" You may be taking something personally that you don't need to - if you are, ask the other person about it. Conversely, if the other person suddenly starts acting defensive - then take a step back and see if you may have inadvertently called their identity into question. Call an audible and ask them about it and if you aren't sure, ask them about that too! Just taking the time to ask shows you care and are invested in them.
Acknowledge emotions. If you or the other person is saying they feel upset, betrayed, etc. - acknowledge that emotion and make sure that they know you feel it is real. NEVER tell someone what they are feeling is wrong. If it's real to them, guess what? It's real to them - and they need you to acknowledge it. By doing so, you earn the right to have them listen to what you have to say.
Take the lid off. If people's pots start to boil, let them let off steam. Here is where the 5 Why's come into play (and the ABC's). Sometimes, you just simply have to say, "Tell me more," a few times to help calm them down and make them feel heard
Don't react. This is the hardest thing to do - when faced with an emotional outburst, it can be difficult to not jump in and react to it. This is the worst thing you can do. Just let them finish, ask questions, and get the conversation back on track. You might just discover something useful about them. But you won't, if you react.
Apologize. If you say or do the wrong thing - own it! The best way to make someone feel listened to, heard, and valued is to show your vulnerability during a heated situation. If you screwed up or offended someone? Own it. Be genuine and move on from there.
Your delivery is important as well. One of the best ways to describe your point of view is to say something along the lines of "Here is what I'm seeing…" Follow this statement with an observation that focuses on the facts WITHOUT diagnoses and judgments. After you've said this, you can "Check it out" by saying, "I'm wondering if…" or "My perception is…" followed by a gentle question about the facts of the situation as you see them. An example of this (to go back to the "Loud Talker" example from previous posts might be, "My perception is that your voice really carries when you walk through the call center and some people appear to be distracted. I'm wondering if you have observed this?" Notice that you've stated a fact (as you see them) and followed it off with a simple question to kick off a discussion.
A reminder here is to focus on what you want vs. what you don't want. You don't want to focus on, "You need to stop being so loud." A better focus would be on, "What can we do to ensure that we are respectful of the employees in the contact center?"
Finally, when it comes to approach - consider where you are going to have this conversation. In your office? In their office? Or somewhere else entirely. It may be best to do something that you can share in as a lead in to the conversation - perhaps going to lunch or going on a Starbucks run for the team. The trick (as with most of these steps) is to be transparent. You can't blindside the other person - let them know you want to talk, and then invite them into an activity you can do together. By doing something together, you've already done something proactive. By starting the conversation there, you both may be more open to each other's ideas and solutions then if you had otherwise jumped right into the conflict discussion. Here's a bonus tip: not matter where you decide to have the conversation, try sitting next to each other instead of across from each other. Sitting across from another person is usually a "Transnational" situation - making a purchase, going to the bank, getting a loan, filing a complaint, giving an employee review, etc. When we sit next to each other, it tends to be to do things that we are sharing in together - a sporting event, a movie, etc. We are geared to respond with a fun, together spirit by sitting side by side. It would be crazy to not harness this for our challenging conversations as well.
Now let's take a look at the next part of E.A.R. - Asking questions. Remember to make sure they are non-judgmental and focus on the action not the person. Here are some things to consider when asking questions:
Ask them one at a time. You may be eager to ask, but you have to give them time to focus and genuinely answer one question before you ask another.
Don't fill the silence. Just because they don't answer right away, doesn't mean you have license to jump in and clarify or to ask more questions. Before you do this - give them time to mull over their response. This shows respect and that you care about what they have to say.
Listen to the answer. Don't plot your response or set a trap - listen to what they have to what they have to say because it may cause you to ask a different question then the one you had planned which leads us into…
Don't rely on a question queue. It's great to prepare questions, but you also have to be prepared to throw that question queue out if one of their answers sends you down a different rabbit hole.
Be transparent. Above all else - be honest in what you are asking and why you are asking. Don't mask your questions or the interaction under false pretense. You can't solve or resolve a conflict if you start with anything that can be construed as a lie.
And now we are onto the final part of the E.A.R. process: Restate/Repeat. When the other person gives you information, make sure you restate back to them what they have told you - focusing on how they feel and the facts they've given you. Some phrases to help you with this are,
"My perception is…"
"What I think I'm hearing is…"
"If I'm understanding things correctly…"
You'll notice that the above puts the blame for understanding the information squarely on your shoulders which gives the other person the chance to correct you. If you were to begin a statement with, "You said…," or, "You mean…" you are putting the ball in their court which could lead to them feeling blamed. As you repeat back to them be sure to:
Use their "emotion" words. If they say they feel pissed off, it's okay to say, "If I'm hearing you correctly you feel pissed off because…" If you change their word to something else, you may change the meaning of from their point of view which causes further disconnect
Avoid blaming them. This will get repeated a lot through these posts (As you've probably noticed). This is just a reminder - focus on the problem, not the person.
When you are finished, ask, something like, "…Is that accurate," "…Did I hear you correctly," or "…Am I on the right track?" This gives them the opportunity to correct you, so you can both feel you are on the same page
The other meaning of the "R" in E.A.R. is Repeat. This just means that you repeat E.A.R. as often as you need to clarify the situation and make sure you both understand.
Let's stop there for this post - we've covered a lot so far, but the good news is that we are in the home stretch! In our next post we'll discuss the last portion of the I. N.E.E.D. process - Decide. Until then - as always - make today great!