How to Manage Conflict When You’ve Angered Someone

Ever been late for an appointment and the first thing you do is justify why you’re late?  Or, you anger a co-worker who mis-reads your email of how he can perform better? When you email him back to explain, his anger escalates.

Stop right there.blind spots that stop effective communication

According to Peter Bregman, a leadership coach and author, the first thing you want to do is empathize with the offended party and apologize for the behavior that upset them. Bregman is clear that this doesn’t mean you’re “betraying yourself”, you’re just empathizing with how the other party feels.  It’s the step that is needed before you can repair the relationship through effective communication. He demonstrates with a great story of being late for a dinner with his wife:

“You’re stuck in your perspective: You didn’t mean to be late. But that’s not the point. The point is that you were late. The point — and what’s important in your communication — is how your lateness impacted Eleanor.”

In other words, I was focused on my intention (excuses or reasons) while Eleanor was focused on the consequences. We were having two different conversations. In the end, we both felt unacknowledged, misunderstood, and angry.”

Communication is a strange thing.  Usually what’s in our mind or perspective can falsely manifest itself in how we communicate. In other words, don’t be so sure you’re right. At least check yourself against the 7 Common Blind Spots of Communication by leadership expert, Judith E. Glaser:

  1. Denial of Reality – Feeling so strong about our own beliefs that we deny the beliefs of others, or deny facts right in front of our eyes.
  2. Control – Seeing ourselves as being more responsible for things than we actually are, or having more control over things and events than we truly do.
  3. Made-Up Memories – Making decisions based on memories that did not happen. Often we confuse our imaginations, or our dreams, with reality.
  4. Reality Distortions – Distorting reality to conform to preconceptions.
  5. Know it All – Thinking that we know more than what we really do. (We simply don’t know what we don’t know.)
  6. Listening Only to Validate What We Know –  Failure to listen to others.
  7. Undervaluing What We Do Know – Listening too much to others, and allowing others’ beliefs to talk us out of our beliefs; or in some cases cause us not to trust our instincts.

Any other tips on communication you’d like to share?

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