Handling Conflict

June 15th, 2011 @   -  No Comments

Conflict always exists. All of us experience it. We disagree with our brothers and sisters at home and we disagree with our managers and peers at work. The only people who probably do not experience conflict are hermits.  The truth is we cannot eliminate conflict. The only thing we can do about it is to learn how to deal with it.

Our Creator gave us some examples of prophets who had serious conflicts of ideas and beliefs with their immediate family members: the case of the prophet Nuh (AS) with his son, Ibrahim (AS) with his father, Lut (AS) with his wife, Yusuf (AS) with his brothers and Mohammed (PBUH) with his uncle. At times we lose sight of the fact that all these conflicts are a part of day-to-day life and not all conflicts can be solved.

Conflict can be destructive and detrimental or a wake-up call for creativity and an opportunity for growth. When not handled properly, conflict distracts people from activities that are most important to them, can tear down relationships, negatively affect morale and lead to bad decisions. By contrast, when it is properly managed, it can help people see other options or points of view, clear the air, encourage creativity and lead to better decision-making. Therefore, knowing when and how to handle conflict in order to benefit from it can make you a more effective leader.

How can we handle conflict? We can handle conflict by facing it or ignoring it depending on the situation and the type of conflict.  If the conflict can have a negative impact on relationships or performance then you need to face it. The best way to face it is by making the right intention that you are willing to solve the issue by reaching a mutual agreement. Prepare yourself mentally and be ready to forgive or be humble enough to acknowledge your mistake. Keep in mind that you cannot undo what has already happened. To solve the issue in a positive way, you can follow this process:

  • Go directly to that person to address the issue rather than complaining to others. It is better to meet face-to-face. Although email and SMS may communicate the message quickly, you cannot observe other communication cues such as intonation and body language. By contrast, complaining to others about the issue can make the conflict worse.
  • Ask open questions for the purpose of gaining clarity and understanding.  Questions like “Can you describe that more clearly?” “Would you give me a specific example of what you mean?” “Can you help me understand why you feel that way?” “What do you mean when you …?” can help you understand both the other person’s feelings and point of view. Remember the one who asks the questions is the one who is steering and directing the conversation and the conflict.
  • Listen without interruption. Listen to what the other person is saying with words as well as intonation and body language. The root cause of many conflicts at home or in the work place is lack of listening. This requires a great deal of patience. The prophet (PBUH) used to spend a lot of time listening so much so that some hypocrites accused him of listening to all that is being said, be it true or false. “Some of them hurt the prophet by saying, “He is all ears!” Say, “It is better for you that he listens to you…” (Quran 9:61).
  • Make sure the person feels completely understood by paraphrasing what he said using closed questions like “Are you saying (suggesting) …?” “Do you mean……” Only when the person feels understood will they be more open to listen to your views on the issue.
  • Find the 1% that you do agree on and expand on it. Communicate clearly your concerns and your expectations.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions. List all the potential ways to solve the issue by asking questions like “What do you think we should do?” “What is the best way out?” “How can we prevent this issue from happening again?” Sometimes one conflict has multiple solutions.
  • Agree on the best solution, develop an action plan and follow it up. Do not forget to evaluate the solution.

Sometimes people intentionally or unintentionally create conflicts in order to divert your attention and distract you from your core mission and put you in a reactive mode. This type of conflict drains your resources and energy. The best way to deal with such conflicts is to ignore them. The Prophet (PBUH) was called all kinds of names and accusations but he ignored them by not reacting and responding to them. If he had responded to all those accusations, he wouldn’t have had time to accomplish what he had accomplished. “..and when the ignorant address them they say: peace.” (Quran: 25:63). 

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