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There's Power in the Tongue, but Even More Power in the Ears - How to Handle Conflict

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Photo Courtesy of CanStock Photos: by Palto

As a martial artist one of the hardest conversations to have is with a parent who feels their child should have received the next level belt achievement. I have learned during those times how important listening and empathy is in order to resolve. From a martial arts perspective I have to ensure I'm always demonstrating the tenets of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. Martial arts, along with other learnings form this journey called life has helped me to become comfortable with handing conflict.

You see, in any relationship there will be conflict at some point. In most cases it's inevitable because we are all different in may different ways. A few years ago, I was mentoring a young woman. She was having some significant challenges with one of her coworkers. She explained the situation to me and she decided the approach she was to educate herself on how to avoid conflict through research. When I heard her say this my eyebrow raised slightly. I then recommended to not avoid the conflict. Please understand, I do believe you have to pick your battles sometimes because some scenarios are not worth your energy. However not all conflict is avoidable, sometimes you have to address the conflict head on. When it comes to conflict the way you react and approach to resolving it is key. I have quite a few scenarios in my career, and personal life, where conflicts have arisen. I first want to share with you some tidbits I have picked up on how to address conflict to resolve it. Please don't get it twisted, conflict is not easy or comfortable, but resolving it is critical to move forward. 😉 I then want to discuss how to deal with difficult people while in the midst of conflict. The scenarios I chose are all out encompassing on every type of behavior or personality you may encounter, but they are some that I have encountered more than others. Let's dive in shall we?

How to Handle Conflict

  1. Remove emotion - when you are emotional it will fuel the fire 🔥. If you are too emotional to confront the conflict at the time it occurs, wait a day, or two, until you can address it rationally. Try not to allow too much time to pass before addressing the issue though. You really want to address it as quickly as possible to the time the conflict occurred. You don't want it to fester and then produce other behaviors that will cause issues in the long term. Please know, waiting is not avoiding the conflict. It's allowing enough time to pass to have a productive conversation. If you find during the conversation you begin to get emotional again, I highly recommend you request to to take a break to allow those emotions to subside.

  2. State facts, not opinions - when a conflict arises recap exactly what happened as you remember it. Don't add, or take away from, it. Don't try to add in your perception, or opinion, of what you "think" was meant. This only clouds the issue and shuts you down from having an open mind. Ensure all parties understand, and agree, of what occurred during the conflict. This is something I have learned in karate. Your foundation must always be sound and strong (the foundation here being your body and mind). if it is not then it can cause obstacles to your learning. You have to make sure the foundation of "understanding" what occurred is laid first, then you can start having deeper conversations on how to address it.

  3. Listen, Listen and Listen Again - it's important every party has a chance to state their part, and/or viewpoint in the conflict. All voices need to be heard. When you state your side, then allow others to state theirs. LISTEN to truly understand, NOT to respond. You may find the entire conflict was a misunderstanding. LISTENING is power and sometimes just listening resolves the conflict. We do have 2 ears and 1 mouth, so take time to hear what is being said, and not use your mouth to respond in your defense so quickly.

  4. Identify the root cause - in order to identify the root cause all parties need to be heard. All parties need to come to the table with open minds and no biases. If you truly want to resolve the conflict then you really need to get to the root of the problem. Everyone should agree on the root cause, or causes, and what part he/she played in the conflict. Some techniques that can be leveraged are: "The 5 Whys", fishbone digram, survey, or focus groups to capture everyone's viewpoint. There are many different options here. The ultimate goal is to understand the root cause.

  5. Come to a resolution - now that everyone has been heard, and root cause, or causes, have been identified, it is time to resolve the problem. Again, everyone has a voice at the table and all ideas need to be heard. State your thoughts, and then LISTEN to others. At the end of the day, hopefully, everyone can agree on a resolution. If you find the parties involved cannot resolve the issue, then a 3rd party may need to be engaged. Ensure if a 3rd party is brought into the situation theindividual is not bias to any of the parties involved. The 3rd party should HEAR all the facts and be privy to the discussions that have occurred to ensure a resolution is found that is fair.

These are 5 tips I have found to work well for me in handling and resolving conflict.

Dealing with Difficult People Now what to do if a party doesn't want to play nice? 😩 One lesson I have learned in life is you cannot control people, but you can control your reaction to them. If you can't resolve the conflict by yourself you may need to bring in an unbiased 3rd party to help as we discussed some above. It would be best to choose someone far removed from the situation and potentially someone none of the parties know, but respect. If for some reason the other party isn't open to this approach, then ask them what they recommend as an approach to resolve the conflict? This puts the accountability back on them to make a decision. Here are some additional tips I've learned in my career on dealing with difficult people.  Specifically, WHY individuals may be difficult, and some counter actions you can do to work through the madness. 

Power & Control - there are instances where people desire, and love (❤️) control. Once obtained they don't want to relinquish it. Some may think admitting wrong doing, or involvement in a conflict could damage the control have. Though it may be only be their perception it is their reality. Of course everything will be done to keep that from happening. Somes ways to counter this is:

  • Respect: Weaken the thought of a lost of power and control by showing respect. Some desire power for self-fulfillment so when you take away something they feel is a part of them, their defenses rise. You want to minimize that and ensure they now this is not about diminishing them as a person but resolving a conflict to move forward.

  • LISTEN: Ensure they are heard. If not, there is a chance he/she will disengage, and not feel being in your presence is worth their time.

  • Request: Ask for their input. A person who desires power and controls likes to feel valued and that their knowledge means something. They feel it brings credibility and respect to their space. So ask what approach they would take. Let them help you work through the conflict and be a part of the resolution.

You may feel this is taking a lot of energy, but it will help to make working with this type of individual a little less challenging, if you find it to be challenging.

Hidden Agendas - This one is a pet peeve of mine and one area of frustration that makes my blood boil (😤). When there are hidden agendas, political games, or ulterior motives, can make solving a conflict quite difficult. There is probably a strategy of what they are going to do, and what it takes to get their way. So how on earth do you counter this behavior?

  • Seek to understand - take a moment to figure out how did the political games or ulterior motives come about. What is the history behind it all? Now you may need to play detective. First get to know the person and observe who the individual is interacting with. Try to understand what they have been through in the past that is causing the behavior.

  • Strategize - you need to strategize as well. You need to find out WHAT is motivating the person and WHY. The WHY being the most important piece of the puzzle.

  • Push to Resolve - Once you figure out the WHY and WHAT you work toward emphasizing how resolving the issue will help to drive what they desire. If you do obtain the WHAT, and the WHY, the conflict may take longer to resolve, or not happen at all.

Please do not mistake this for manipulation, or being shady. This should be an exercise to genuinely understand through LISTENING to the other parties perspective. People can tell if you are not genuine so you want to be genuine.

Lack of Self Confidence - I have found that miserable people like others to feel miserable (☹️). Sometimes when individuals lack confidence in themselves they do not want to be put in situations that will knock down the confidence even more. Especially if he/she plays a signification part in the cause of the conflict. This may result in conflict avoidance, which you do not desire. Some tips to counter this are:

  • Get To Know - take time to get to know the individual opposed to focusing so heavily on resolving the conflict. You may not get anywhere if you don't take time to understand where this lack of self confidence is coming from. Now you do have a quick timeframe to get this done because you don't want a lot of time to pass as the conflict needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

  • Encouragement - encourage the individuals as much as possible they add value and their voice is needed to work through the conflict. Think positive intent as much a possible because this individual is dealing with internal conflicts within themselves and not necessarily others outside of that.

Take time to LISTENand understand. That will help you with your approach on how to work with this individual.

You're Perceived as a Threat - when you have a lot of knowledge, well respected and/or confident individuals may feel intimidated or threatened by you. Many times this really has nothing to do with anything you have done. It's really an issue with the other person where there is something within them that needs to be resolve. However, once the feeling raises its ugly head their behaviors can show that vulnerability toward you.  You have to ensure you don't change who you are to accommodate another person. You need to listen to feedback, but you also have to know what is feedback versus and opinion. Also, being perceived as a threat can actually be looked at as a compliment. This could very well mean there is something you are doing right someone else desires to emulate, though they don't want to admit it. So walk in your greatness humbly. However, how do you counter this? I thought you would never ask 😊.

  • Acknowledgement: Recognize you are deemed as a threat. Communicate in such a way the other person feels they are being HEARD and valued.  Don't feed into the threat and intimidation distraction. Nor let it impact how you interact with others.

  • Stay humble: In all things stay humble. You can be confident without being arrogant. Do not make anyone feel inferior to you. If you do more defenses will arise. Other behaviors may arise that are not positive.

  • Build Trust: Ensure the individual feels you are in it with them. It's not you AGAINST them but you are WITH them. LISTEN to their perspective and alway make them feel they have a voice.

In order to resolve a conflict, or just work with this individual, you have to get the threat removed first through building trust and you truly want to work with them.

As you have probably realized I used the words "LISTEN" and "HEARD" quite a but throughout this post. Throughout the conflict cycle communication is key. There is power in your words. Words can slice like a knife though if not used wisely. There is also power in LISTENING. LISTENING brings clarity and allows you to communicate better. So when you find yourself in conflict, and in conflict with difficult people, remember: "There is Power in the Tongue, but Even More Power in the Ears". Choose your words carefully and open your ears for clarity.

REQUEST: I want to hear from you in the community. How have you handled conflict? How have you dealt with difficult people? What approaches or techniques can you share with us?

To leave a comment go back (👈🏾) to the main blog page and click on "write comment" under post. Let's grow together.

Signing off,

The BA Martial Artist

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