Managing Difficult Interaction

Conflict is a fact of life. It can be caused by many things, including …

  • Poor Communication
  • Differing Values
  • Differing Interests
  • Scare Resources
  • Personality Clashes
  • Poor Performance

Sometimes conflict is caused by thinking that there won’t (or shouldn’t) be any conflict! Expecting every interaction to go smoothly, can cause even more stress when conflict arises! There are a few ways people deal with conflict[1]. They may:

  • Avoid addressing the problem
  • Seek compromise
  • Accommodate others
  • Collaborate for a win-win
  • Compete
  • Attack

Of course, it is less stressful to use productive conflict management behaviours rather than engaging in behaviour that can be destructive to career or personal relationships.

The interesting thing about learning to deal with difficult people effectively, is that everyone, at some time or another, could be considered a difficult person. Typically, we may classify someone as being difficult, or a difficult person, because they do not agree with the status quo, our individual belief, or take a stance that threatens our personal agenda consistently.

Conflict is not that difficult to overcome with a planned & strategic approach… Creating a meaningful connection is probably one of the easiest ways to reduce conflict and defuse stressful situations.

The ACIS Method

Here is an approach that can be used to bridge gaps & reduce resistance: building a sense of connection, understanding & engagement.

A – Accept conflict

You will never agree 100% of the time with 100% of the population. There will always be conflict. In fact, most people would be bored if there weren’t any! Don’t shy away from conflict, stay connected. Figure out how you feel or what you believe, and be clear about where you stand. Take time to understand why you think the way you do, but don’t steamroll over others. They will have an opinion that may differ from yours but that does not make them wrong..

C – Calm yourself

Know your triggers. Don’t assume the person is being difficult on purpose. They may just be trying to protect their interests. Choose the right time & place to clarify the issue calmly. Be conscious. Are you taking this personally? Separate your needs from the task at hand. The main goal should always be to maintain the relationship by separating the problem from the individuals.

I Identify the real problem & constraints

Ask authentic questions amicably to get more information. Listen empathetically for cues & clues about your counterpart’s interests. Paraphrase and summarise to elicit hidden meaning & information. Find out what the person is trying to preserve or protect, or what they need. Decide together if it is feasible to fulfil their needs or not. If not, what is the fall-back? Be curious. Ask open-ended questions… “From your point of view, what’s going on here?”, “What bothers you most about this situation?”, “Is there something that would help you do your job better?”, “It sounds like there are quite a few problems here: why have you stayed?” or “Why do you think that person is acting that way?!”

S Solve & Settle

Don’t limit yourself to just getting the job done today. Summarise how you resolved the conflict and agree to using, at least in part, successful conflict resolution strategies in the future. Define a key phrase that can be used to flag issues or conflicts that require a bit more consciousness to resolve. My favourite phrase is – “We may need a Kitchen Table to sort this out!”

Supportive Techniques

The following techniques can support you while you build your conflict management tool kit.

Deep breathing: when you feel your heart start to race, or your temperature rise, take a few slow, deep breaths. This will trick your body into thinking that everything is going well.

Take a break: If things become heated, take a break. Come back when everyone has calmed down.

Rehearse: Preparation is key. Run through a few scenarios with your team. Try to identify anything that might excite emotions and consider what you will do (your coping technique) to prevent escalation.

Signal Empathy & Collaboration: Use phrases like: “I understand what you mean.”/ “That’s a valid point.”/ “I can see your point of view”

Be accountable: Use ‘I statements’. Pay attention to what you are doing, thinking, and feeling and ‘own’ your responsibility for ensuring that all conversations have a great outcome.

Above all, being gracious & dignified during any interaction, is a foundational behaviour that sets the tone for interpersonal success.

  1. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, Conflict Styles, 1970 ⤴️

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