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Conflict is Entirely About Trust – Part II

In my last post I was singing the praises of trust when it comes to productive, safe conflict. Without ceremony I’m going to lunge into some concrete examples of how this looks at work.

Remember that trust works in three ways in conflict:

1) Do I trust myself in this conflict?

2) Do I trust the other person in this conflict?

3) Do I trust the process I am using to manage this conflict?

Some Examples of Where the Lack of Trust Trips Us Up

  • Co-worker who is late with work we need

  • Person that is irritating us environmentally (noise, proximity, etc.)

  • Supervisor that delivers vague or conflicting instructions

  • Clients that you can’t get a direct answer from

  • People who impose on you, or who don’t respect your boundaries

  • Vendors who don’t deliver what was promised

And of course I’m just getting started, right? The funny part about this very incomplete list is that nothing that I wrote is terribly challenging in and of itself – if we trusted that we could communicate effectively to the people that are making us crazy. That’s exactly the point: we’re not communicating effectively because we don’t trust.

It comes down to establishing even a minimal sense of trust if we’re going to successfully deal with our issues with other people.

Trusting Yourself, Part II

Ever notice that there are people who seem utterly confident talking about difficult subjects or issues? Who don’t seem to mind saying yes or no as they feel? Aren’t they annoying? 😊 More accurately, don’t we wish we could be more like them?

We can. We have to identify where we’re not taking care of ourselves, and if there’s anyplace most of us could get much better at self-care it’s the subject of boundaries. If you look at the list above, or in fact look at a great deal of conflict (anyplace) you’ll find it comes down to having something to do with boundaries.

Healthy relationships need healthy boundaries. (See my blog post from February of this year HERE for more about boundaries and conflict.) It is very, very difficult to trust yourself if you won’t draw boundaries that work for you.

Of course boundary-drawing is scary for most of us. We talk a good talk, but often we don’t enforce our own boundaries. We get angry, we get frustrated, we get irritated, but at the end of the day, if we don’t draw our own boundaries, other people will blunder into them. It’s rarely malicious on the part of the other person (whatever we tell our friends when we’re mad about the most recent incursion into our territory) but it’s still on us to enforce our fences.

What’s one way to build self-trust around boundaries? Be willing to risk a little conflict in the practice of drawing those boundaries. There’s nothing quite so self-trust-building as beginning steps of telling the people in your world what works and doesn’t work for you. For some odd reason some of us assume that means we have to be stern, grumpy or rude in our boundary-drawing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can, with practice, do it with grace and warmth. But do it we must, or we continue to erode our own self-trust.

I get that this isn’t easy for many of us. We may be having this conversation with a supervisor, for example. And if the supervisor is a jerk then we might really be uncomfortable doing this. But most of us are dealing with, mostly, decent people. It’s one thing to deal with a really difficult soul (that’s a different blog post) – it’s something else to move in the direction of better communication and trust-building with a decent colleague, someone we love, a friend, etc. Speaking of which -

Trusting the Other Person, Part II

Interestingly enough just working on trusting ourselves more is a great help in getting conflict communication to a better place. The more we trust ourselves the more we’ll risk wading into a difficult conversation with another person.

At the same time it doesn’t hurt to strengthen the trust we have in our potential conflict partner. How do we do THAT?

1) We prep for conflict beforehand, specifically by negotiating simple, direct ground rules.

2) We practice a little with that other person.

There’s nothing quite so trust-building as actually doing the thing that makes us nervous, once or twice. There’s no profession in the world where a person wouldn’t practice the skills needed prior to diving into the hard stuff of that work, yet we’ll wade into conflict (or worse, get backed into conflict) with little skill, prep or practice at the task. Yikes!

Just a little bit of experience of talking about the hard stuff with someone else can be the beginning of a big boost in trust between you and that person. Nothing clears the air, strengthens the connection between two people or fortifies that relationship against tough times than the freedom to speak directly and safely to each other.

And by the way I’ve cheated on the last part of the puzzle, because I’ve already started talking about -

Trusting the Process you Employ to Do Conflict with a Little Skill and Grace

Here’s Erik’s Simple Conflict Process. I didn’t say “easy” because a LOT of us are so uncomfortable with conflict that it won’t feel easy at the start. But it is simple:

1) Decide to tackle the problem/issue.

2) Decide that the mission is collaborative, solution-oriented, not adversarial. Communicate that to the other person! Continue that orientation as you do this process. Remind yourself.

3) Establish simple, direct ground rules for the people involved to make the conversation safe and productive.

4) Start FIRST (in the conversation) with Reflective Listening. Listen first to understand each other.

5) Allow for feelings without taking ownership of another's feelings. That includes things said in anger, especially at the beginning of your skill-building. We’re so poorly trained to do conflict that there will be a learning curve, and sometimes you’ll get cuts and bruises in the process.

6) Be direct and honest. (Courtesy is assumed here, even if things get heated.)

7) Repeat as needed.

Doesn’t sound very complicated, does it? To some readers it will sound scary, or very uncomfortable. But then any new skill does, at the beginning, or if we haven’t had sufficient practice. I suggest you practice first with people you ALREADY have some trust with, and work your way out from there.

Because the more you trust yourself, the more you can extend trust to someone else. And the more you trust the process you use to approach potential conflict the more you can trust each other.

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