Amy Gallo: It is a very positive thing to have conflicts in work. You get better work outcomes. You get stronger relationship. It's how we handle conflict that's often negative. We don't think rationally. We don't make good choices. We say things we regret. Before you have the conversation, if you go through these four steps, it's going to help you make a rational, smart choice. Informed choice. About what to do and how to do it.
It's important to note that the very first step is not focus on your feelings. That's going to be our instinct, right? We're all very narcissistic when we enter a conflict. And that's a natural thing. But you need to break out of that and start to think about the other person. This is not out of generosity. This is not out of altruism. This is a strategic move that’s going to help you solve the conflict. So ask yourself questions like, is this person a conflict seeker or an avoider?
What is the goal they’re trying to achieve here? What is it that they want from this situation? You might think that person is out to get you. Or you might think that the person really just wants the promotion that you're also aiming for. But what else could be going on for that person? Could it be that they had a long night? You know, didn't get much sleep. Could it be that they're under a lot of stress at home? Could it be that they care about this project? Or that one of the values that they care most about -- let's say fairness or honesty -- is being threatened.
So really trying to get into the mind of the other person. This includes, as I mentioned, understanding whether they're an avoider or seeker. Avoiders value relationships and harmony. That's what's most important to them. They often will placate others because of these concerns about having good relationships at work. They’ll try to change the topic. They’ll try to redirect people to something else. It's a very good strategy if you're an avoider, and you don't want to be in a conflict.
Now seekers, on the other hand, value directness and honesty. Again, it's not that they don't care about relationships and harmony, it's just for them, directness and honesty is more important. They will advocate for themselves when they get into a conflict. They’re not afraid to say what they want and what they need. That also means they're really usually willing to advocate for others as well. They also can be impatient when it comes to conflict. Now, I say this with absolute empathy because I identify as a seeker.
There lots of people who are both avoiders and seekers. You might be an avoider with your boss, but a seeker with your mother. So we all sometimes use different roles and different tactics. But most of us have a general default approach. So, like I said, you need to know what you yourself are. You also need to know what the other person is. For example, if you are a seeker and the other person's an avoider, in this first step you're going to notice. OK great.
I have to watch out for bullying. Or I have to watch out that I don't talk over this person. Or if they start to change the topic, I need to understand that's part of their avoider-ness, not because they're being disrespectful to me. The second thing you need to know is, the type of conflict you're having. Most of us assume that we are in what we call relationship conflict. Which is also personal conflict. Now, that's very common is that you'll feel disrespected. Or you'll feel that your relationship is at stake.
This is particularly common for avoiders. And the truth is, most conflicts -- especially at work -- don't necessarily start as a relationship conflict. It's not that your interaction or your working relationship is at stake. More often, it starts as one of the others. And the most common is task. Task conflicts are conflicts when you disagree over the goal or the objective. So I might think the goal with our project is to improve customer service. While you think the goal is to increase revenue.
That's also related to the third type of conflict, which is a process conflict. So we might agree on the goal. So we might agree that the goal is to increase revenue. But we might disagree about the way to get there. So I often think of this as the what, and this as the how. That’s linked to the last type of conflict, which is status conflict. And that's really about power. So who has the power or authority to make a decision to move something forward?
And you see this a lot on cross-functional task forces, or cross-functional teams. Where it's not exactly clear who's in charge. And there's a lot of jockeying for position, or authority, or you might even see some turf wars. No matter what type of conflict you're having -- whether it's one of these last three -- often it can then end up in a relationship conflict, right? So you start to disagree over what the goal of project is.
But then I start to feel disrespected. Perhaps you sent me a snarky email at 11:00 at night. Or perhaps, you raised your voice at me during a meeting. So I start to feel like our relationship is at stake. And that's why this step is really helpful. Because what you want to do is, think about what was actually going on? What actually started? Was it that you disagreed over what you were trying to achieve? Did you disagree, how you were going to try to achieve it? Did you disagree about who was in charge?
And then did it evolve into something that felt personal and possibly disrespectful? Analyzing that, and understanding what exactly is going on, will help you tease apart the different strings of your conflict. Now, the third step is to understand your goal. Most of us feel like when we enter conflict, I want to win. If that's your goal, think of a different goal. Is it that the project needs to get done on time? Is it the product needs to come under budget? Is it that you want to have a strong working relationship with the person who you’re having a conflict with?
You also want to make sure that your goal is a shared goal. So that work you did in step one, to understand your counterpart and think about the goal. If there's any overlap between what you're trying to achieve and what she's trying to achieve, that's a great place to start when you actually have the conversation. Now the last step -- the fourth -- is to choose an option. So the first option is to do absolutely nothing.
Now, I know that sounds a little bit like a funny option. But we do this all day long. This is a great option if you're very concerned about the relationship. If you are dealing with someone who tends to be unreasonable. If you feel like they won't be open to having a conversation. This is not a good option if you think that you're going to stew about the situation. The second is directly address. I think, especially in American work culture, US work culture, this is what we think of most often when we think of conflict management or conflict resolution.
This is where you and your counterpart talk about options for how to resolve it. And you'll hopefully come to a resolution. The third option is to indirectly address. Now, in many cultures -- or many contexts, many organizations -- indirectly addressing it feels like a little bit, perhaps, passive aggressive. But there's many contexts in which this is a very useful option. Now, the last option is to exit the relationship.
Now, this should be a last resort option. It's often not possible in work culture or work environments. You may not be able to quit your job. You may not be able to get a new boss. You may not be able to change who you share your office with, right? But if you've tried one or more of these options -- hopefully all of them -- and things are not getting better, then you should definitely think about how can I lessen my interaction with this person?
Can I get staffed to a new team? Can I maybe, you know, switch departments and report to a new boss? You don't need to stay in a situation where you're having a lot of conflict, and it really feels unresolvable. There’s a very good reasons to have healthy conflict on a team. And it's actually a manager's responsibility to create some of that conflict, as long as it's healthy. As long as teams have the tools they need to work through it in a productive way.