When you’re engaged in a conversation that is heading in a destructive direction, consider reframing the discussion to get it back on course. Reframing means distilling the essence of what the other person is saying and translating the unhelpful statements into productive ones. For example, assume the other person expresses “I’m right and I’m not budging from my position.” You can reorient this position of “certainty” by reframing it to share your perspective. You might say something like, “I can see that you feel very strongly about your perspective and I want to make sure that I understand it. I’d also like to share my perspective on the situation.”
By legitimizing and “constructively misunderstanding” a person’s comment, you’ve opened up the possibility for further dialogue.
In conflict situations, use “I” statements to express your own feelings. For example, instead of saying, “You never do your share of the work,” try “I feel that I’m doing more than my share of the work on this project.”
In negative situations, “you” statements convey anger and evaluation. As a result, they are more likely to lead to an escalation of the conflict. On the other hand, “I” statements are more likely to diffuse hostility and protect the ego of the audience.
When dealing with a conflict situation, first focus on areas of agreement. For example, assume someone in another department is upset with the speed at which your departments responds to his requests for information. He may convey, “You guys never seem to get back to us with the information we request.” Assuming there is some truth to the criticism, you might respond, “It’s true that the revenue and cost projections you requested several weeks ago aren’t ready.” Then, let the critic respond. In other words, focus on restating a fact, rather than evaluating, justifying or explaining.
This approach helps diffuse the conflict. Additionally, it communicates that you’re listening and it gives you time to think so you’re better able to respond to the criticism rather than act defensively.
Contemplate what employees or coworkers are signaling by their anger. Might it indicate that they’re under stress? Is their anger being used as a tool to avoid further work or inhibit further discussion of other points of view? For instance, an employee who gets angry during a performance review may be using the emotion to avoid hearing about continuous improvement ideas because of the uncertainty of trying new things.
People, consciously or unconsciously, use anger or other displays of emotion to achieve a variety of personal objectives. Determining the underlying source of emotion can help you better manage and confront issues.