We all face conflict every once in awhile.
Is there a way to approach these conflicts so they can be negotiated peacefully?
Our office is in an alley behind this great little Mexican restaurant in Nashville. We’re right in the middle of a neighborhood, so there are always people on foot, walking to the coffeeshop and nearby restaurants. But apparently there have been neighborhood kids causing some trouble. The property managers sent a couple emails about it, but the messages never felt urgent or had a tone to communicate a lack of safety for our staff.
I’ve seen a few of the kids running around, playing tag and, well, being kids. Nothing of harm, from what I could tell.
The other day I was working in my office when I saw one of the property managers walk in our front door with two police officers. With this not being a typical occurrence, our entire team was a little caught off-guard.
We all stood up and gathered in a circle in the middle of the office.
The property manager (we’ll call her Janet) explained she wanted to introduce us to the local police officers and then spent a little time explaining the situation with the neighborhood kids. They asked us to call the police if we saw the kids loitering and suggested we always “buddy up” whenever walking to our cars.
After they said their little spiel, they walked out and across the hall to another office.
Our team tried to get back to work.
But we all sat at our computers, processing what had just happened.
Fortunately, we didn’t have any outside parties in the office that day. They did come at a good time to interrupt. But I started thinking how it would have made our guests feel if we were, in fact, having a meeting and two police officers walked in unannounced.
So I decided to write an email to Janet, thanking her for stopping by to inform us of the situation. But also, I asked her to let us know of future visits so we could be expecting a visitor—especially when that visitor was a police office.
I wrote the email in the kindest way I could while offering specific, corrective feedback. I wasn’t mad. I just wanted her to change her approach for next time.
Janet’s email response really frustrated me.
She said “my apologies” and then wrote two sentences defending her position. I didn’t find her apology sincere or apologetic at all.
You’re not really apologizing when you stand firm in your perspective.
Janet never once acknowledged my concern, she never aligned with my situation, and she never assured me of her plan to make it better the next time. I learned a process for conflict resolution while working for Apple, and it’s the exact opposite of Janet’s approach.
The 3 A’s of Conflict Negotiation go like this:
First, Acknowledge. Make them feel heard.
Actually listen to the things that are being said and repeat them back. “What I hear you saying is ______. Is that correct?”
Second, Align. Make them feel less alone.
How did the situation make the other person feel? Recognize that feeling and speak from their perspective.
Third, Assure. Let them know you have a plan.
With every conflict, there must be a resolution. Sometimes the resolution is immediate, sometimes the next step is acknowledging the situation won’t continue happening. Either way, have a plan and communicate that plan.
If Janet would have followed these 3 steps, it would have sounded something like this:
“I’m so sorry for walking into your office with the police officers, unannounced. I can see why that would have startled you and if I had been in your position, I would have felt the exact same way. Moving forward, know I’ll always give you advance notice if anything like this ever happens again.”
There’s no justification in that response. I would have felt heard and understood and appreciative.
Conflict in life is unavoidable. We can choose to push our opinions on others or try to see situations from different perspectives. The next time you’re in a little tiff, give the 3 A’s a try. It’s helped me hundreds of times and I hope it’s helpful for you.