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Ever wonder why conflict keeps reoccurring in your life and old problems never go away?

One of the main reasons is because we focus on the examples and never address the real issue. As a result, we solve one situation only to have another similar one arises later. The frustration mounts and we feel as if we just cannot reach a harmonious relationship with a particular person. This article provides two case studies designed to assist the reader to see the importance of defining the issue prior to addressing any example.

The first case is of a personal nature and the second one outlines a workplace example.

Making Assumptions

Case 1: Aspen and Bailey have been friends for several years. Bailey keeps making plans for Aspen. Aspen is really irritated when little notice is given and she is made to feel guilty if she doesn’t go along with Bailey’s ideas.

In this scenario, Bailey calls Aspen to tell her that she has tickets to a concert they had talked about two months ago. At that time, the date and time of the concert was unknown but they both agreed they would like to see it.

Bailey telephones Aspen to say that she has the tickets in her possession. She proceeds to tell Aspen how much money she owes her, and the time and date of the concert.

This time Aspen is really upset. The cost of the concert is not within her budget and she already has plans for that date and time. She decides to have a conversation with Bailey and this is how it went.

“Bailey, you are my friend but I cannot go to the concert next Friday. You’ll have to find someone else to buy the ticket.”

“I don’t have anyone else to ask. Our other friends have their tickets and besides you promised me you would go with me.”

“Bailey, I said I would go but at that time I didn’t know the time and date.”

“You can change your plans, Aspen. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I can’t, Bailey.”

“Some friend you are. I’ll never do anything for you again. You aren’t my friend, are you? A real friend would never do this.”

“I am really sorry, Bailey.”

“No, you aren’t. I went to the trouble to do this and you don’t appreciate it. In fact, you never say thank you. You take me for granted.” I’ll see you when I see you.”

In this case Bailey and Aspen discussed the concert but they did not address the real issue. What is the issue?

The Issue

It appears as if Aspen feels that Bailey just goes and makes plans without agreeing on the details and this agitates her. Bailey feels she is doing a good deed by taking the lead and informing Aspen after the fact.  This will continue to happen if they don’t solve the issue.

The issue seems to be that

It is important to agree on the details of each commitment prior to either person making plans for the other.

If they don’t solve the issue and the problems associated with the concert blow over, Bailey will go back to her old pattern of behaviour and continue to make assumptions. As well, she will feel that Aspen is not up front with her. Bailey will plan something else and they will be back in the same situation.

Case 2: JJ and Henry work together and JJ is Henry’s supervisor. Henry was expected to write a document but he continues to miss his deadlines. JJ is really frustrated with Henry and decides to call him in his office to discuss the issues with the document. They have their conversation and it seems as if the concerns get resolved. JJ feels great about the conversation.

A month later, JJ receives a call from his supervisor advising him that they need to have a serious talk because some of the required monthly reports are not being submitted. JJ meets with his supervisor to find out that the employee who is not submitting his reports is Henry. Once again JJ and Henry meet and seem to resolve the concern because JJ guarantees him that he fully understands and will submit his reports.

Within the next three months, JJ is in a management meeting where a concern regarding the performance of one of his staff members who sits on an interdepartmental committee is brought forward. JJ is floored when he discovers that the person who is not following through on his commitments on the committee is Henry. JJ is totally frustrated. He sits down to have a serious talk with Henry and is assured that the committee commitments will be fulfilled.
Not much time passes, when JJ realizes that none of the things he thought Henry agreed to were actually completed.

Why might that be the case? What is the real issue? It appears to be

The importance of completing all commitments and work responsibilities 100% of the time without reminders.

As you can see Henry is familiar with the individual incidents but he still doesn’t’ know the underlying issue. Until that issue is resolved, Henry’s behaviour will not change because he doesn’t understand the problem.

Only when a staff member comprehends the real issue and the consequences of non-compliance can a supervisor actually expect real results.

The Lesson

Before beginning any conversation sit and take the time to be ready to

  • Clarify the issue
  • Ensure the example to be used relates to the issue
  • Tell the person how their behaviour impacts on you
  • To say that you are taking responsibility for your part in issue and articulate the expectations of your role.
  • Say that there could be consequences if the person involved does not address the issue and be ready to outline them clearly
  • Outline the question that addresses the issue to be solved, ensure the other person is engaged and offers options, and only accept solution that can be carried out within your context.

Examples are wonderful but they do not lead to increased understanding and self-awareness unless the issues are clearly outlined.

Here is how JJ’s conversation might go with Henry:

“Henry we are meeting to discuss the importance of completing all commitments and work responsibilities 100% of the time without reminders.  For example, it was pointed out to me today that you sit on X committee and you have not fulfilled your commitments to the group.

This bothers me because it is essential that we represent our section well and that others can count on us. I realize that we have discussed examples of missing deadlines before but we have not discussed the expectations of your role prior to this.

If you do not begin to fulfill the expectations of your role, I will have to put a formal letter on your file the next time a similar example is brought to my attention. I would like to avoid that possibility by determining what we can do to ensure that you complete all commitments and work responsibilities 100% of the time without reminders.Let’s brainstorm some ideas and then agree on the solutions that will work best for you.”

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