Rosalie Boulter – Paradigm Shifters Consulting Inc.
I recently wrote a blog titled Conflict Transformation Through Self Knowledge, about how there are two aspects to conflict: the content and the emotion. I highlighted that we cannot ignore the emotional piece in conflict, and while recently working with a client I found again that she brought forward the role of emotion in conflict resolution. Here’s another take on this, as well as a technique I frequently use.
My Client’s Situation
My client wanted conflict resolution around what she was feeling in regards to the behaviour of somebody they were supervising. Her goal was to have a conversation with the staff member to encourage them to be a team player. Again, it is important to remember that we only get into conflict about the things that matter to us. It became clear after a very short conversation that “team” was a high value and motivator for my client, as it came out half a dozen times in a matter of minutes. The behaviour of this person ran against her value very strongly, which is what was triggering my client and escalating this conflict.
What’s Stopping Her From Achieving Conflict Resolution?
In our session, it became clear my client was not ready to move past the emotional aspect of this conflict. Whenever we tried to look at creating the type and tone of interaction she wanted to have with this staff member, she kept returning to the situation and was triggered over and over again. When somebody is trying to find conflict resolution but they are not ready to move past the anger, it is futile to deny their emotion or to attempt to calm them down and have them enter their “logical” mind. Nope. No conflict resolution or transformation is available from this place. Check out the brain science on this.
How Did We Deal With This?
We changed tactics and instead I encouraged her to express how she REALLY felt – the conversation she REALLY, at that moment, wanted to have if there were no witnesses, no consequences, no filters, all the bad words and poor grammar and blame and whatever else. My role at this point was to keep poking the bear – hear her, repeat her words, reinforce her feelings, encourage her to go deeper and wilder. One term for this is ventilation – get it all out. Ventilation is a key technique in conflict resolution.
Why Is This Important?
Before we did this, she could not move on as her emotional brain was stuck. This ventilation only took about a minute or two and when she’d finished her tirade, she said it felt “cathartic”. It was a relief to express all that, down to the petty judgemental stuff you’d be embarrassed to even admit resides in your thoughts. Before we did this, she didn’t believe she could have a professional conversation with the staff member and, trust me, it wasn’t going to go well the way she was heading. Once we’d finished, she knew that she could have a calm and professional discussion. She was no longer afraid of accidentally blurting out unprofessional or unhelpful things due to her emotional state.
How Can You Best Use The Technique of Ventilation?
Ventilation is a great conflict resolution technique you can use with people who are deeply in a conflict situation that doesn’t include you. You can also do it for yourself, but having somebody there with you making sure you get it all out is super helpful. What we do not want to do is get into the details of the story and start validating their position, as this will just get them to further engrain in the emotion than they already were. About all I said was “Yeah! That was inappropriate! What else made you mad? (Ok, I used saltier language than this because she was as well – go with the client!) Yeah! What else?” And on and on until she wound down. You could feel the energy shift within her – She was now able to access her thinking brain.
So Now What?
Then, we take that tirade and mine it for what part of that needs to be communicated – the real message underneath the anger, blame, defensiveness and outrage. What underlying messages are important to communicate? We transform this into an appropriate workplace communication that will ultimately lead to conflict resolution. This may need some refining, but nowhere near the amount of editing that was required prior to doing the ventilation exercise.
Although scripting your conversations by writing them out or speaking them aloud to yourself or others may seem stilted and awkward, I highly recommend it! When we hear our words out loud, we can hear where they feel awkward or not quite like what we wanted to say, or very likely where they will incite the other rather than invite communication. This gives us the chance to revise them before we are right in the middle of an important interaction. One well thought out conversation can save you a world of grief and repeated conflicts, and introduce the beginning of conflict resolution – Try it!