Back when I was an adjunct professor, I found myself in the middle of a heated conflict. It was a tough situation, but it taught me the importance of standing firm and handling conflict effectively, especially in a leadership role. Today, we're opening up that treasure trove of experience and sharing it with you, along with some solid strategies to tackle those difficult conversations with poise and precision.
Imagine having a GPS that could navigate you through the rough terrain of mid-career conflicts! Well, you're about to get just that. We're exploring techniques like maintaining calm, setting boundaries, using "I" statements, and more – all to help you chart a clear path out of conflict. And we're not stopping there. Should you consider third-party mediation? What should you do after the dust settles and the conflict is resolved? We're covering all that and more, equipping you with skills that won't just resolve conflicts quicker but will also foster an atmosphere of respect, improved communication, and teamwork. Tune in, this is one journey you don't want to miss!
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I don't believe anyone wakes up in the morning and says I can't wait to deal with conflict today. It's not easy, but we get better at handling conflict the more we put ourselves in situations where conflict is present and how we choose to show up and deal with it. If you're in a leadership role, you must excel at handling conflict in difficult situations because your success depends on it. In this episode, I'm going to give you five strategies to help you deal with conflict that, if you practice them and put them into use, it will make your next difficult conversation that much easier as you build your mid-career GPS. Let's get started. Hello my friends, this is episode 183 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your host, John Narrell. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four-step formula. Last week, I hosted a live webinar called Three Strategic Steps to Land your Dream Job Before the Year Ends. If you're on my email list, you hear about webinars and special events that I'm doing first because you're on my email list. To get on my email list, I want to give you something of value that I know is going to help you in your career. My guide, which is called Five Mistakes Mid-Career Professionals Make and Need to Stop Doing, will help you focus on what matters in your job search and career progression as you avoid the roadblocks and detours that stop you from getting the success you want. Now to get the guide, all you have to do is go to my website, johnnarrellcom. You'll see it right there on the homepage to download your free guide and let me help you figure out whatever is next for you and your career. And don't forget to check out the Resources tab on my website for other great information as well. Now, learning how to deal with conflict is, admittedly, something I avoid through a large part of my career, but as I got myself into different situations and progressed in my career, knowing how to deal with conflict was something I knew I needed to be better at. And, trust me, when you're a middle school mathematics teacher, you learn how to deal with conflict through the mind of an 11 to 14-year-old. Now, yes, I'm the authority in the room and there were certain roles in the classroom, but at the same time, I didn't want to come across as being unreasonable or obnoxious in that, but one of the most interesting events I had in my career when I was working as an adjunct professor, teaching a class to help people teach elementary mathematics, and let's acknowledge that conflict arises when someone disagrees with what you're saying or doing. So since we're just kind of getting back to school and everything, I thought I would share this story with you because this is actually one of my favorites. So I'm teaching this class. It was for undergraduate students, it was a 400-level class and, like I mentioned, it was about helping elementary school teachers be better at teaching elementary mathematics, and part of the requirements for the course was that all students needed to do a tutoring log, meaning that they had to tutor a student for 10 hours over the course of the semester, track the students' progress. Well, this one woman raises her hand and she says to me Professor Narrow, that always made me kind of stop because I wasn't used to hearing my name that way. Professor Narrow, I'm going to need an alternate assignment because I work and I'm just not going to be able to do this tutoring journal, so I'd like a different assignment. That was a very small class, or about seven students in the class, and I looked at her and I said no. She said excuse me, Maybe you didn't hear me right she goes, but I work and I'm not able to do this tutoring log, so I'm going to need an alternate assignment from you. And I looked at her and I said no, this is a foundation for this course that needs to be done. I'm not able to change that, so you have to decide whether you're going to do this or not. She said I don't think you heard me correctly. Now we're on the third time of this. I said I will discuss this with you after class, but I will tell you and everyone else in the room this is a non-negotiable, but you're welcome to talk to me after class. So the class was two and a half hours long, so she stuck around. I give her a lot of credit. She came up to me afterwards and she said I don't understand why you're not going to give me what I want. Think about that. That's how she chose to approach the situation and I looked at her and I said it's not a matter of whether I can give you what you want or not. I'm bound by the university that this is a non-negotiable for this course. You have to do it Now. I said I'm happy to talk with you about ways you might be able to adjust your schedule or where you may find the time to do 10 hours of tutoring over three months, but I cannot, nor will I give you an alternate assignment, because that's what you want. I can't do that. Needless to say, the conversation did not end well because she was extremely frustrated with me and the university, but she left. When I went back in the class the next week, I was wondering if she was going to be there. She was. Another week went by and she was there. She approached me after class and she said look, I'm going to tell you I'm not happy with this. I said I understand. She said but I got a student and I'm just going to get the 10 hours done and I'm going to find a way to make it work. I said great, how else can I help you? She goes well. I didn't really want the assignment. I said I understand that, but I can't change that. No, no, no, I'm just going to go ahead and get it done. We went through that entire semester and, of all the people I've had an opportunity and privileged to teach over the years, she's one of my favorites because the growth I saw in her and the outstanding work that she did. I was really proud of her at the end of the semester. At the end of the semester, she said to me I didn't want to do this assignment but I learned a lot. Thank you so very much. She became my biggest advocate for teaching that course. When I taught the course next semester, my enrollment went from seven students to 20. I learned that she was telling people take this course with Professor Neryl. He's tough, but you're going to learn a lot and you're going to have a really good time in this classroom. That all came out of a difficult situation. When we deal with conflict, there are certain strategies we can implement that are going to diffuse or escalate the situation. The five tips I'm going to share with you are the same tips that I used in this situation and others throughout my career. They were important for building my mid-career GPS then and they're going to be important for you to build yours now. What I want to offer you first is that conflict arises from a difference in thoughts. Those thoughts create feelings, which is where the conflict stems from, by creating a certain action as a result of feeling that conflict. What I want to offer you here is that your goal in showing up and having this intentional conversation when conflict is present is to get to the root of the conflict, to understand the person's thoughts about the circumstance or situations and what next steps will come from it. Tip number one is to stay calm and composed. We know that nothing usually comes good from elevating our emotions in a situation when someone is already heated or upset. Maintain your composure, remain calm. That will allow you to think clearly, respond rationally and prevent the conflict from escalating further. Remember you can't control your thoughts because they're just going to come into your brain really quickly, but you can control how you feel and how you act. Staying calm and composed is first and foremost. The second one is make sure to set boundaries or ground rules for how you're going to deal with that conflict. Clearly defining and communicating personal boundaries and expectations is vital for helping to navigate the conflict. This can help prevent conflicts from arising that's caused or due to some misunderstandings. One of the things that may happen as you are navigating through the conflict is saying something like this I understand you're upset, I understand that you're angry in this situation, but leveraging personal attacks against me or my character is not going to be tolerated. Moving forward, can we agree that we will both even if you haven't done it that we will both agree that there is no place in this conversation for personal attacks or misgivings? You can set a boundary or a ground rule as the conversation is progressing. That will also help and hopefully diffuse any kind of negative or abusive behavior. But what I also want to offer you is is that, no matter what the conflict is, you are not to be abused, disrespected, disgraced or harmed in any way, shape or form If somebody chooses to continue that negative behavior. The ground rule is I'm out In my book show up six strategies to lead a more energetic and impactful career. By the way, you can get it on Amazon dirt cheap. I think the book now is like under two bucks. It might be a dollar or something. It's just the way Amazon is priced at this point. But if you want to learn more about this, definitely go get my book show up. I walk through some processes about how to set ground rules. It is the first strategy and how we show up. So boundaries are really really, really important. Now, tip number three here is to acknowledge and validate Showing empathy to somebody who is in conflict with you by acknowledging their feelings or concerns, even if you disagree, will absolutely help create a more collective collaborative atmosphere. Being empathetic by acknowledging and validating somebody's thoughts or feelings does not mean you are agreeing or giving into them. Let me say that again being empathetic does not mean you are agreeing or giving into them. This is about acknowledging someone's feelings and what I know is that when we acknowledge and validate in a conflict or in a stressful situation, you listen better to what they're saying and you can drill down and get clear about what their thoughts and feelings are on the situation as the conversation progresses. Now another strategy here is to use I statements. Using your concerns, using I statements allow you to focus on your own thoughts, feelings and perspectives rather than placing blame or accusing the other person. When we use I statements, this helps reduce defensiveness and it fosters better communication. So you may start off with a sentence, like I heard you say. I think If it's an emotional based statement, you may say I feel Keeping it centered with an I statement grounds the conversations in what you are directly experiencing in the conflict. Think about this how many times have you gotten upset or angered with somebody when you've been in a conflict and they start off with well, you don't know what you're talking about, or well, you think you're entitled to everything. All of a sudden, you're absolutely going to get defensive because you feel attacked. It's as if somebody is physically and verbally pointing the finger at you and saying you're wrong. In a conflict, we want to be right. That's initially how it starts out. People think they're right and they can't agree. Braming it back into the I statement is a powerful way to manage that conflict. And then, lastly, set agreements on next steps. Even in the midst of the conflict, having agreements on next steps about what actions are going to be taken or what behavior is going to be expected, moving forward and agreeing to what that's going to be is very, very helpful in understanding what conflict will look like, moving forward and in the future. So again, the five tips here are number one is stay calm and composed. Number two is about setting boundaries or ground rules. Number three is acknowledge and validate. Number four is use I statements. And number five is about setting agreements on next steps. I do want to offer you one additional consideration. When dealing with conflict, there are times when one or both of the conflicted parties should consider third party mediation when a conflict persists involving a third party who is neutral. So, at work, this may look like an ombudsman, it may look like an HR representative, it may be a trusted colleague. They can help facilitate a more structured and unbiased resolution. And, regardless of whether you use a mediator or not, it is always important that, when leaving that situation to reflect and learn on what happened, Once conflicts are resolved, take the time to reflect on what went well and what could have been improved from your perspective. Don't sit there and be like, well, this would have been all better if the other person just agreed with me, or this could have been improved if the other person wasn't so nasty. Take responsibility for what you can reflect and from what you can learn in the situation. Continuous learning from these experiences make you more adept at handling them in the future. Handling conflict is a skill. You will get better with it over time and, admittedly, it can be very uneasy. But here's the other thing Like we have talked about so much recently on the podcast, when we have talked about networking, when we have talked about dealing with biases, dealing with some DEI issues where you may not be really good at handling or addressing them. You are going to make mistakes. You are not going to handle every situation perfectly. I know I haven't. But taking the time to reflect on what you did well and what you would do differently if given the chance, makes the next time you handle that conflict or difficult situation that much better I didn't say easier, because it can still be difficult, but you will handle it much better. Conflict is a natural part of our careers and as we navigate our professional life, how we manage conflict can significantly impact our growth and our work environment. Developing these skills can not only resolve conflicts a little quicker, but also foster better teamwork, communication and mutual respect. So when we understand that conflict is just going to happen, we can appreciate and learn from that conflict and the skills we get by navigating through that conflict as we build our mid-career GPS to be better employees, better followers, better leaders and better executives. I hope today's conversation was helpful, as always. If we are not connected on LinkedIn, send me a connection request. Tell me you've been listening to the podcast. Give me an idea for what you want for a future episode. I'm happy to consider that as well. Definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. Check out my website at johnnarrellcom for additional resources to help you build your career. And, lastly, thank you for listening. Thank you for being such a loyal listener and member of this podcast community. I sincerely appreciate it. I'd be eternally grateful if you would share this episode with somebody in your network who you believe would really benefit from it. So until next time, my friends, remember this we build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the mid-career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit johnnarrellcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at Johnnarrell coaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.