To make the task of giving feedback and addressing conflict less daunting, we break down difficult conversations into three separate conversations:

Difficult Conversation 1.

The “What happened?” conversation.

Your discussion of the substance of a conflict – what each party perceives got them to this point – should be aimed at separating impact from intention. If one employee complains that another employee demeaned him, it is important to find out the intention of the person who is being accused. We often jump to false conclusions about others’ intentions.

Difficult Conversation 2.

The “feelings” conversation.

Emotions play a strong role in conflicts. Wise business negotiators give disputants plenty of space to explain how they are feeling. You can do so effectively by engaging in active listening, which involves paraphrasing what the other person has said as accurately as possible, asking open-ended questions aimed at revealing the other person’s motivations and interests, and acknowledging the other person’s emotions and concerns.

Difficult Conversation 3.

The “identity” conversation. Our deepest concerns about our identity often can be found at the root of our conflicts of others. Such identity concerns include questions about whether we are competent, respected, and ethical. Consider whether the conflict might threaten how the disputants view themselves, then aim to help them maintain a positive self-image as you offer suggestions for improvement.

Honest and useful feedback can be just as difficult to accept as it is to deliver, write two of the authors of Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, in their new book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Portfolio Penguin, 2014).

Our own personal negotiation and dispute resolution “blind spots” – such as a bad temper or extreme sensitivity – can prevent us from being open to feedback and resolving conflict. To overcome our blind spots and move forward, we must consider the possibility that others have identified something about us that we ourselves cannot see. Ask for clarification and patience as you work on learning more about your blind spots and trying to do better at conflict management.

~Submitted by: Patrick Cioffi