When you think of conflict at work, what comes to mind? Wouldn’t it be great to have a relatively simple model to keep in mind that you could use with any situation? We tend to remember well and we can focus best with up to three items. With that in mind I am suggesting you take LEA with you when you have a conflict at work. LEA stands for Listen, Empathize and Act. When you carry out all three of these actions at work that can make a major difference to resolve conflicts. The conflict could be with customers, vendors, external stakeholders, peers, subordinates, supervisors, vendors, adversaries in court, and others. The potential for conflict at work is just about endless.
In previous blogs information has been provided on the value of and how to connect with those with whom you disagree. It is important to look past the disagreement. Instead focus on values. Understanding our own diversity and that of the other person to explore areas for connections. When you consider the other person as an individual, that in itself can pay make a real difference.
With that as background let’s explore LEA further. Perhaps this model could help you too.
A natural response when threatened is to attack. We are at the ready to defend our position. This is why the first response is to acknowledge this and then calm your own fire. Realize that your natural response quite likely is to raise the adrenaline level and prepare for a fight.
You need to take steps to control the anger. You need to be there to help. It is very important to listen to the other party first.
Let that sink in. You want to tell the other party why you are upset and what you want to have them do. That often is the natural reaction. However, only when you are calm and you are prepared to listen to them should you proceed. So how do you approach the problem?
Approaching the problem
When you are calm, start by asking open ended not threatening questions to explore the facts. For example, in an inquisitive and nonthreatening tone ask:
“What happened on the ABC project this time? “
“What were lessons learned from this case that we can apply going forward?”
“How can I help you so that we can avoid this in the future?”
“What would you like to have happen in the future?”
These kinds of questions raise an issue in a non-threatening way to explore the facts and the emotions behind those facts. When you do that you will be able to potentially work together to address both of your interests. This can become a teaching and bonding moment.
Besides asking these questions, your responses to these questions really matter too.
Response on your part
You need to listen with respect. That is without negative judgments.
You want to check for understanding. When you check for understanding you are making sure that you really are understanding. That is not only with the words, but the tone and meaning behind those words. Did you really understand what the other person was saying?
When a person really feels listened to, then they are far more likely to be receptive to listening to what you have to say.
So, listen to them first. Make the first step towards reducing the anger and promoting understanding. This brings us to the second element with LEA. Listen with empathy.
Understanding with empathy means to really reflect the feelings of the other party. First put yourself in their shoes. How do you think they are feeling? Understand that this is an emotional situation for them too. Perhaps you can find the words to demonstrate that you can relate to their frustration, irritation, anxiety, or sadness. By taking this proactive step this helps put you in a better frame of mind for your interaction.
Do a check in. Ask something like
“How did you feel about working on the ABC project and how are you feeling now?”
“Based on what you experienced what could be done to make you feel better about these types of situations in the future?”
Acknowledge how the other party feels. Work with them to address your and their feelings.
Acknowledge their feelings and your understanding of their feelings. If you are not understanding ask for further clarification. Keep working this issue with the other party until you really can reinforce what they are saying in your own words.
Listening with empathy involves summarizing and paraphrasing not only the facts, but acknowledging their emotions and feelings behind the words. Pay attention to the tone of the words, the facial expressions and the body language of the person. By acknowledging what you are seeing and feeling from the other person this demonstrates understanding and active listening.
First and foremost, having listened with empathy you demonstrating your acknowledgement of the other persons feelings. That in itself is an action. You are acknowledging the other persons feelings.
“I get it. You have a right to be upset.”
“That put you in a really tough spot.”
“I can understand why that would make you angry.”
As another action, if you screwed up (and we all do) apologize. This goes a long way towards reconciliation. From the book The Servant Manager Tip 73 states in part that an apology involves three items.
“Proper apologies have three parts:
1) What I did was wrong
2) I feel badly that I hurt you
3) How do I make this better”
This works. First, you have to say you are sorry and admit what you did was wrong. Second, you have to indicate that you truly are sorry you hurt the other person and you won’t do it again. Finally, you have to ask what you can do to make this better and be prepared to take actions to do so.”
This last item is critical. Ask “What would you like to have happen?” Consider the implications, economically, socially and environmentally. What are the impacts and upon an evaluation of the impacts does that option make sense? Might this give rise to other alternatives?
As the actions requested by the other party are considered, this demonstrates a real concern for the other party. As you work together to explore options from the question “what would you like to have happen?” this can actually lead to an aligning of mutual interests. If that is the case, consider how far you have come from the original situation. Now instead of a potential adversarial situation you have an ally that is helping you to address the issue. How does that make you feel and how does that make the other party feel?
This doesn’t just happen. This takes thought ahead of time. With some planning, calming the fire, entering the situation with a genuine attitude to help, and then bringing LEA with you, this can be a very valuable tool to add to your tool box. Keep this with you at work, but consider applying this tool at home and in other situations in life.