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Conflict handling

In conflict situations we often react by fleeing, fighting or being transfixed ( flight, fight or freeze ). Even if we ourselves keep a cool head and can remain businesslike, it turns out to be difficult to create space for a constructive conversation. Conflict management is about the question of what the most constructive approach is to a growing field of tension between people, groups and organisations. 

What do you do when it gets tense at the table?

A constructive negotiator tries to deal constructively with the relationship in order to ultimately come to good decisions and deals together. Skills in conflict management are essential. because you  you can be constructive and rational in it, what do you do if the other person does not or cannot? And what do you do if you notice that emotion or a feeling about the relationship is getting in the way of a good conversation?

druk op relatie conflicthantering

Many people tend to work around the tension. The conflict exists but no one talks about it. At least not at the table. This avoidant behavior ensures that the solution space is very limited. After all, it is difficult to separate the person from the problem. Some parties will try to 'win' the conflict by being inflexible and taking positions. That behavior invites the same reaction: rigidity of the other party. Others are quick to admit: relational tension feels very uncomfortable and that is why promises are made that go against the interests of these parties. And the question is whether the conflict will actually disappear or whether it will temporarily provide some relief. Still others will not give in immediately, but will try to explore solutions that serve as many interests as possible. Although the intention is noble, those possibilities are not well listened to. After all, there is too much relational tension.

For constructive conflict management it is necessary first to connect with the emotional world of the other. What emotions are there? What frustrations or expectations are communicated about the relationship? Words often play a minor role here. Body posture and tone say more when things get relationally exciting. Joining the other does not mean agreeing, surrendering your interests or fully understanding the other. It is about acknowledging the other person and his/her experience of the situation. Relational disturbances take precedence; therefore give them your full attention and ask enough questions. Verify by summarizing and questioning whether you are on the right track to better understand the cause of the tension. Postpone your judgment.

There is a great temptation to switch to content as quickly as possible; because isn't there the solutions to the problem that causes the tensions? That's the question. And even if the tension has a substantive cause, it is important to keep in touch, not only on the feeling of the other person, but also on the next steps in the conversation.  

Conflict management is therefore essentially a form of process management in which it is essential to obtain agreement about the next step. Sometimes that can simply be a short break; if tensions are high, you can agree at a later time by talking.


Thanks to our many years of experience with the  Harvard method  of negotiation we are regularly asked to help restore stalled partnerships, recalibrate business partnerships and/or help resolve conflicts. View our Conflict Management training or our advice and coaching services .

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