Productive Conflict: Acknowledge the Feelings of Others

Sometimes, by simply acknowledging the feelings of others, you can deflate destructive conflict behaviors and guide the conversation back to being productive.

This is an empathetic move.

One where you put yourself in their shoes in order to experience their perceptions, their feelings and thoughts, and their point of view instead of your own. It puts both you and the person with whom you have conflict on the same level.

Awhile back, a group of us were in an uptown retail merchant meeting; a sub-group of the Chamber of Commerce who gather to talk about ways to increase foot traffic.

Pat was being obstinate about one little issue of signage. His hostility made Doris hostile, and they started fuming and saying passive-aggressive things to each other. At one point, Doris gasped, then blurted “Oh my gosh, you’re not mad about this; you’re sad about this, aren’t you?”

Pat started to say something, then gulped, then his eyes got a little wet. “Yeah.”

Doris’s shoulders fell as the tension ran out of her. “I’m so sorry. I thought you were mad—mad at me because I brought it up. What is it about this sign that gets you upset?”

Pat looked at her, frowning. “It feels like we’re modernizing everything, not just cleaning up the vintage stuff that makes us unique, and my shop follows that theme, and has for years, and it feels like the end of an era.”

As soon as Doris acknowledged Pat’s feelings, the hostility between them disappeared, and they were able to converse about the issue.

Empathy goes a long way during conflict.

It allows us to step outside of ourselves and into the perspective of someone else. Sometimes what we see is not what others see, and it’s important that we have the whole picture.

Acknowledging the feelings of others may be more natural for those with the i style and the S style, and maybe less natural for those with the C style and D style.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

This is the 10th post in an 18-part series discussing positive conflict behaviors. Effective leaders encourage productive conflict and discourage unproductive conflict. Follow along as we explore the positive impact of these behaviors.

Part 1: Finding the Root of the Problem
Part 2: Apologize
Part 3: Listen to Differing Perspectives
Part 4: Bring in a Neutral Perspective
Part 5: Separate Emotion from Fact
Part 6: Own Your Contributions
Part 7: Offer Reassurance
Part 8: Find a Compromise
Part 9: Give Others Time and Space

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