A powerful approach to turning conflict in your favor

© 2009, Doug Davin and Diana Morris
[Featured Breakthrough Skill Conflict Management: Keep cool in hot situations]

You may have heard some version of the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

You keep trying to get an employee to take the initiative, but he won’t. He does just what he’s told and not a calorie more. The rest of the team picks up the slack, but their resentment and frustration are growing. The situation is starting to wear on everyone.

No matter how often you ask for more responsibility, the best opportunities go to a coworker who is less qualified. In the meantime, you’re stuck doing work you know isn’t showcasing your talents and may be dead-ending your career.

You’ve tried for months to stop a client from sending you on errands for things he really doesn’t need. When you finally deliver, he ignores you or asks you why you’re bothering him with such trivia. It’s become a significant drain on your time.

In each case, regardless of what you’ve tried, the situation persists. Let’s make it more interesting by adding a few layers:

• You don’t have the time or energy to handle a direct confrontation.

• You’re too new to a situation or a company to risk a direct confrontation.

• You’re concerned, given the people involved, that a direct confrontation will cost you too much.

• You don’t have time to plan a direct confrontation carefully.

• The person causing all the trouble is a higher level than you.

• For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, you absolutely can’t walk away.

Change the game
Rather than continue what you’ve been doing (probably to no avail), you can choose a completely different approach. We call this “changing your game,” which simply means that instead of repeating what’s clearly not working, you try something entirely new. It’s a decision to stop reacting to someone or to a situation and instead to set a new agenda based on how you want the relationship or the situation to work.

You take a fresh look at how you’ve been operating, and then take some definitive action in the opposite direction. As that action reestablishes your expertise, authority, or command over the situation, there is a ripple effect: by changing your game, eventually, you change the game. It’s a mini-application of Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi’s belief: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” What works on a grand scale works in our individual lives too.

Let’s get practical about this. Think of a conflict you’re facing or faced recently. Reflect on your actions leading up to and during the conflict. Then define an internal decision that will enable you to change the game and take matters in a new direction.

How to
Some examples:

• If you’ve been reluctant to take action or sitting on the sidelines, get more involved.

• If you’ve been too attentive or engaged in an unhealthy situation, distance yourself.

• If you’ve been trying too hard, try less.

• If you’ve been quiet, speak up.

• If you’ve been talking too much, hold back.

When you change your game, you’ll notice people responding to you in new ways. They will have no other choice. Think of it this way: Each actor in a play has a role. Everyone must play his part to carry out the plot. If one of the actors (maybe you) were to change his lines, the others would have to change theirs too, and if the script changes, the story changes. If you’ve said your lines again and again, and from this experience, you know (and don’t like) the direction the plot is taking, change your lines. The other actors will have no choice but to change theirs.

Some keys for making this strategy work for you:

Be patient. Ted and Sharon noticed changes fairly quickly, but it can take time for changing your game to have the effect you’re after. Sometimes, the longer you’ve established a certain role (the quiet one, the loud one, the detail hound, the idea person), the longer it will take for people to respond to you in new ways once you change. Be patient and persevere.

Be consistent. To be effective, the change must be persistent. Every contact, public or private, every email, conversation, and phone call must reflect it. So be consistent: don’t let up.

Be strong. Changing habits is tough, especially ingrained habits with long histories. Sensing a change in you, your opponent may redouble his efforts, and in response, you may feel even more tempted to fall back into comfortable, old patterns. Be strong: make your decision and stick with it.

Author's Bio: 

Doug Davin and Diana Morris are authors and coaches at breakthroughskills.com, a professional self-improvement community and webstore. Their original resources—Rapid-Read™ Handbooks and Workbooks, free BTS QuickTools™, Breakthrough Coaching, Workshops, and Telesession calls—zero-in on seven Breakthrough Skills you need to reach the highest levels of success and enjoy your work—every day.

“You know you’ve got a great future ahead of you. We know it too, and we’re serious about helping you. Contact us at info@breakthroughskills.com or call toll-free: 1-877-512-3400.” Also visit their site at www.breakthroughskills.com

Additional Resources on Communication Skills can be found at:

Website Directory for Communication Skills
Articles on Communication Skills
Products for Communication Skills
Discussion Board
Diana Morris and Doug Davin, The Official Guides to Communication Skills