Conflict shows up every day in our lives in one form or another. It can be over which route you take to a destination or a tough situation at work. Taking time to think it through and ask more questions (which I will outline below), is typically when you get the relief of the “AHA” moment of clarity.  Most of us struggle with some form of  conflict that pops up and it can be draining, taking away your creative, positive energy… if you allow it to.  I’m here to tell you that it rarely has to be a struggle. No more running away or blowing up when conflict shows up.

A while back my client Darrell and I were going through a list of his current clients in order to make some decisions on which ones were good for him to continue working with, while also wondering if there were any that he should drop. Darrell was a big man, a retired NFL player, so I found it surprising when he told me he was intimidated by one particular client. Darrell felt he had to let him go.

Even though I couldn’t imagine Darrell being intimidated by anyone, he shared with me this particular client treated him like he was an idiot, questioning every transaction they did together. Darrell dreaded answering his phone when he saw the man’s name come up on his caller ID. To complicate matters further, this client gave him more business than any of his other clients. Darrell shared with me that in spite of how profitable their relationship was, he was anxious to stop working with this guy because he was tired of being treated poorly.

Now was the perfect time to ask an open-ended question! I gave Darrell the homework of calling his client and asking, “Somewhere along the way you seem to have lost your trust in me. Help me understand….” The client roared with laughter and said he treats everyone like an ass and that he actually loved working with Darrell and had great respect for him. This was certainly not at all what Darrell expected to hear!

With one conversation their entire relationship changed. They now look forward to working together and challenging each other with a great deal of laughter! Understanding each other’s behavior, the path is clear for effective communication. Imagine the alternative – walking away from a really good client because Darrell failed to discover the truth. (From my book, Finding Traction: Recapture Your Drive at Work, chapter 5, page 53)

What assumptions have you made about relationships at work or the rest of your life? The next time conflict shows up, give yourself a chance to look at the situation without your emotions involved. Take a breath, get curious and ask these questions:

  • What do I know about this situation to be true?
  • What stories am I making up?
  • What assumptions have I made?
  • What questions do I need to ask?
  • What is absolutely right about getting into this situation?
  • What lessons have I learned and how did I grow?

Be the example for others on how to handle conflict. Show your leadership skills and help others to calm down by simply asking curious questions rather than running scared or taking it personally. You and employees will be much happier and productive.

My next blog will address more about the beauty of open-ended questions and how they can change everything.