Is conflict due to personality – or the situation itself?

I am the opposite of confrontational. When asked in interviews to “tell about a time” when I dealt with conflict, I strained to reach for some example because I honestly hadn’t been in a clear conflict until two years ago. I was certain the issue was cultural and personality-based since we were very different in those respects. She was quite confrontational. She made a comment about me in a meeting, after which many people approached me to say her behaviour was inappropriate. So, I pulled her aside and basically explained, “I think we have a communication problem, let’s figure out a solution.” Her response: “I don’t have a problem; you have a problem.”

Harvard Business Review agrees I’m probably wrong about my assessment. Focusing on perceived characteristics of another person may be faster and easier, but it’s often ignoring the real cause for conflict: the situation itself. When you analyze situational dynamics together, you can identify other people who can help and what risks may be necessary for resolution. Reflect on the question, “If it weren’t the two of us in these roles, what conflict might be expected of any two people in these roles?” 

To help come together, compare your perspectives on the facts to see if there is a misunderstanding. Then, yes, express your feelings. Even if personality isn’t the real problem, it’s still involved and conflict can feel pretty personal. A language trick is to replace “yes, but” with “yes and” to recognize their view can exist at the same time as yours. Aim to understand more than persuade. 

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