Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turning Confrontation Avoidance into Proactive Diplomacy

I took a Negotiations course during my MBA a couple years ago, and I found it to be one of the most valuable classes in the program.  I thought I knew myself pretty well, and it turned out, I was only half-right.  I knew going into the class that I am an avoider.  I avoid confrontation like its the Grimm Reaper.  I hate confrontation; it makes me nervous and it often (sadly) makes me cry.  I don't really know why it makes me cry so much, honestly, it is something I've always struggled with.  Somehow, the crying gets worse when the confrontation seems to be resolved and when, by all practical stances, I should be feeling better about whatever the issue was.  Anyways, cry-baby issues aside, I hate confrontations.  But what I didn't realize about myself until I got into the Negotiations class was that, when confronted with a negotiation, I am very aggressive.  It's like if you force a dog into a corner, she might suddenly try to bite you.  

This revelation about myself, that I am an aggressive negotiator, has had two effects.  First, it has made me more cognizant of the words I use during negotiating times; I am more careful not to exaggerate or be offensive when I know I'm going to be negotiating.  Second, it has given me more confidence to go after confrontations and not to avoid them.  However, this second effect has gotten me into trouble, because it seems to throw me back into aggressive mode, without respect to my first effect of being more cognizant of my behavior.  

Having recently gotten myself into trouble from time to time, I am finding myself slinking away from confrontation once again.  Instead of taking a conflict head on with the source of the conflict, I've been resorting to escalating and trying to get someone else to deal with it.  This has also come back to bite me in the butt: I would forward the email with some crude comments about how stupid the idea is, and then that gets forwarded back to the original offender.  So then the offender gets even more angry and causes an even bigger stink.  

I need to try something new.  I've decided to stop avoiding the confrontation, and use words that nobody can take offense to.  I tried this once so far, and I can't say it's been a success just yet, but I feel better about it.  Instead of stressing about what the result of the escalation might be, I have stated my case, taken all of the personal feelings out of it, and invited the manager to put in his two cents.  

I think one of the biggest changes in mindset is to ask questions rather than making assertions or implying the other person is wrong.  I try to get the offender to take a step back, so they can understand and communicate the real problem.  It gives him or her the chance to change the demands, and potentially to ask for help coming up with a different, better solution.  Not that that is what actually happens; usually when I question the validity of a demand, the person comes back even more demanding, or giving me less information and becoming even more short with me.  

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