Conflict Resolution: Seek First to Understand

Conflict can rise out of opposing opinions, viewpoints, or behaviors. Conflict, as we are using the term here, doesn’t mean physical altercations, but rather verbal (or lack thereof) disagreements, ongoing inter-personal issues, or any activities in the workplace that contribute negatively to culture development. We often find that conflict is rooted in the lack of understanding between two or more individuals that make up a team. Author and businessman, Stephen Covey, says it best, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Knowledge of one another’s strengths and talents is a proactive approach to dealing with conflict. Not everyone is built and hardwired the same – that is the beauty of humanity! If our individual talents are our lenses through which we see the world, then we are all seeing the world differently! Being able to recognize these differences can lead to great conversation starters about conflict.  One of many tools available to help identify talents is CliftonStrengths. We find that it is simple to use, backed by more than 80 years of research and leaves participants feeling empowered.

Examining the Root of the ConflictIt’s important in any situation to take time to examine the root of the conflict. For someone high in communication, the root of the conflict could have been a previous conversation where some words triggered negative emotions about another person. For someone high in discipline, this conflict could have rose out of a change that made this person uncomfortable, causing them to get upset. Someone high in empathy could have perceived actions or words as unkind with no consideration of their feelings. Examples like these can help someone identify conflict based on the way they perceive the world.

Leaning into Your StrengthsIf we do not fully understand ourselves or others, the inclination may be to avoid difficult situations or continually try to adjust to what we think the other person expects – both scenarios are exhausting and don’t allow for the team to reach their full potential. We all bring something to the conversation and organization. If you understand what that is, then you can start to identify their point of view and how to work with it versus against it. For example, someone who is highly analytical may need some time to formulate an answer to a question. This may communicate that he is disengaged when the reality is that they care deeply and want to provide a valuable response. Asking yourself “How is this reaction related to their point of view?” before questioning intent can diffuse conflict before it starts.

The Case for Active ListeningThink back to this quote; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Arguing your side of the story is not going to solve conflict. Effectively communicating, which involves listening, will most likely ease the tension of a disagreement. Seek to discover their motivations and what drove them to the point conflict. What is their worldview? How do they perceive me and others in the workplace? Listen. Then respond with what you think they said. When communicating, do not argue from your own perspective, but seek to understand theirs. Acknowledging other’s strengths can help you gain perspective. For instance, when at odds with someone who is high in belief, think about their core values or the code by which they live their life. Is it being jeopardized in this situation? Perhaps you regularly clash with someone who is high in focus. Think about what distractions may be causing them stress and instead of “ambushing” them, schedule a specific time to connect when you can be the focus.

When the whole team works together through a strengths-based lens, you will start to appreciate the unique differences between how each person is wired to think, behave, and feel. This may not fully resolve all conflict, but it will certainly ease the navigation and open up the conversation.


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