I’ve got conflict on my mind.  That’ll be because I’ve been training on that topic a fair bit recently (and it’s difficult to switch off from a subject when you’ve been talking about it all day, as my wife and children know all too well.  I hear the phrase “Don’t do that training @#&T in the kitchen, Dad!” ringing in my ears).  Also it so happens that I was interviewed on the topic a few weeks ago, and the interview has just been released.  I’ll give you the link later if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: I am neither one of these gentlemen.  No loss of life was involved in taking this photo.

Disclaimer: I am neither one of these gentlemen. No loss of life was involved in taking this photo.

I think I have found a new insight into the way people go about dealing with conflict.  It’s just a hypothesis (and yes, I would LOVE to go and spend a year researching it).  It goes like this:

Roughly half the world’s population has a preference for Introversion.  They prefer the inner world to the outer world, and find some of the Extraverted aspects of life challenging, if not stressful.  They recharge from inside, by being by themselves or a small group.  They think before they speak in meetings, and tend to be thought of as private, quiet and so on.  Susan Cain‘s book “Quiet.  The power of a introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” sums up that world brilliantly.

Now here’s the thing.  Research by Ralph Kilmann shows a correlation between Introversion and the way people with this preference handle conflict.  It maps onto one of his 5 Conflict Preferences, known as Avoiding.  This is a tendency not to want to deal with conflict, to hope it might go away, to not have the difficult conversation that is required to resolved an issue.  Even to a simpleton like me, it is clear that these two things might well go hand in hand.  Not putting your thoughts out there, keeping things to yourself, would be part of Avoiding, one might imagine.   Kilmann has ascertained that Avoiding is in the top 25% of preferred approaches to resolving  conflict at work.  I wonder how much that restricts growth and innovation in the workplace?

When Introverts stew on things and let things fester, they may find that when they can no longer hang into their thoughts – they simply have choice other than to articulate their thinking – it can come out as a “BLURT”:  it can come out a bit wrong, all in one go, maybe a bit wonky or with the wrong amount (usually too much) of energy.  Sometimes they wish they could have another go, so they could say what they mean more effectively.

This can mean they don’t get what they want, as it can alienate the other person.  People  tend to back off when someone is “losing it” it with them, in which case Collaboration (Win/Win) is less likely.  That’s a pity, as it probably isn’t what either party wants.

I wonder how many conflicts are a result of this tendency to blurt?  I can think of a few, some of which I’ve been on the receiving end of.  What about global conflict?  Was Hitler an Introvert (yes, according to this excellent article).

Are you a blurter when there’s conflict around?  Do you let it fester, build up a head of steam, and then let it go in a mini volcanic eruption?  If so, let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Deal with it sooner.  Conflict is like a seed – it grows.  Nip it in the bud, before you need a chainsaw to deal with it
  • Practice it.  Rehearse your arguments and the tough feedback you might need to give, including saying them out loud into a voice recorder or in front of mirror.
  • Ease into the conversation and let yourself warm up to your piece by asking a few questions (how does the other party see the situation etc.).  This will build rapport and help you to settle.
  • Signal what is coming.  Rather than blurt it unannounced, at least give the party a warning that it’s coming.  Either do that well in advance (“can we meet tomorrow to talk about what happened at the client meeting?”) or when face to face (“I need to raise an important topic with you, and this is not an easy thing for me to do.’)

Do you have any other suggestions for helping to avoid the dreaded blurt?

Here is the link to the podcast I recorded recently with Farnoosh Brock, whose Blog Prolific Living is a must read.  She is an inspiration (I speak from personal experience), and one of the most passionate and energetic people I know.  If you’re feeling a bit flat, her Blog is like a shot of adrenalin.

© Ljupco Smokovski – Fotolia.com