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You don’t need permission to change a conflict

March 23, 2009

Except in the extreme cases of the strong imposing or controlling others’ behaviors, we each have control only over ourselves. Although we might prefer to change other people so that they get along with us, if a positive relationship with someone is in your interest, you might want to start with what you have control over – yourself.

That might not seem like much, but control over self gives each of us the power and ability to begin to change our conflicts into more positive events. We don’t have to wait for someone to agree or give us permission to make a change. We don’t even have to let them know we’re trying.

If you are in conflict with someone whose behavior, attitude or judgments you wish would change, you likely know by now that your efforts to impose your will on the other person have not been effective. Instead, try starting with your own behavior, attitude or judgments  towards that other person.

I’ve been coaching the President of an international company who was having a conflict with others on the senior management team. The current economic conditions were making the conflict much more intense by adding financial concerns to an already difficult relationship.

As he and I were going through the problem from his perspective, the President said, “he didn’t act like a normal human being would.” I asked the President how that opinion of abnormality would have sounded to him if he had overheard someone else saying it. The President defended his opinion of the other person’s actions. When I asked in what ways the President’s opinion of the other person was observable by others, he admitted he hadn’t thought of that. He did believe it was possible that his attitude about others on the senior management team could be affecting his own actions and behaviours.

In other words, the President’s judgment of the team was well known, even though the President was adamant he had never expressed that opinion to anyone but me. He didn’t have to say it; he showed disrespect for the members of the team in a lot of ways. Who started the disrespect was not the issue. He had a goal of improving his relationship with the team. He was, therefore, the one who was able to start towards that goal.

The President got it immediately: “you mean, I’m acting towards them the same way I’m complaining they are acting towards me?” I got an email from the President the next day: “I changed my attitude in the meeting today and there were no conflicts or snide remarks. I guess I was part of the problem.”

Try becoming more conflict competent in your interactions with that difficult other person who you have tried unsuccessfully to change, and watch the person adapt to your change.– As your behavior becomes more conflict competent, the conflict situation will improve. The person who gave you permission to fix the situation by making changes was you.

Change that which is within your power to change, that is, your own behavior, attitude or judgments.– You will notice the difference, even if no one else notices at first.

Filed Under: Conflict Competence      

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