Difficult Conversations

2020 has been a strange year so far.  The Covid 19 pandemic and high profile events of excessive force and systemic racism have created an environment that is bursting with conversations that are difficult but necessary. Chapter three of the Mandt System directly addresses the subject of conflict resolution/management.  This chapter includes useful information for those of you who have been engaging in difficult conversations. The Mandt System’s working definition of conflict is that it is an emotional state within a relationship with miscommunication, misperception, and disagreement.  We make the assumption that the conflicted relationship is one that both parties value and wish to continue and that for the relationship to continue undamaged, a change must occur.  I’ll note here that not all relationships should be continued.  Some relationships are abusive and the parties involved may decide to end the relationship.  Sometimes terminating an employee, unfriending someone on social media, or leaving a toxic work environment are the best course of action available to a person.  It’s not the point of this blog to address those relationships that should be ended. We’re going to discuss the difficult conversations that sometimes come up when conflicted people value the relationship and wish to work to make the changes necessary for that relationship to continue.

The Mandt System recommends that conflicted parties engage in dialogue early, before tempers have risen and people cannot process information due to anger or frustration.  If tempers rise during the conflict, it may be that involved parties will need a break to engage in de-escalation strategies so that they can cool off and eventually re-engage.  During the difficult conversation we advise parties to use “I language” and avoid cognitive distortions.  People involved in these discussions may have to do the often uncomfortable work of analyzing their own implicit biases.  Authentic communication within conflict occurs when all parties are able to both address the facts of the conflict as well as express their feelings about the conflict.  Conflicted parties should  engage in empathy and look at the issues from multiple angles, while also recognizing that conflict exists on multiple levels. Once conflicted parties have sifted through the miscommunications and misperceptions, they can utilize problem solving tools to address the actual problem.  

The Mandt System recognizes five potential outcomes that can occur in conflict.  Collaboration (win/win) is ideal because it helps relationships grow.  The parties may have to settle for compromise, which at least maintains the relationship.  The Mandt System does not recommend that conflicted parties practice avoidance (lose/lose), as the conflict does not get managed or resolved with this outcome.  We also do not recommend accommodation (lose/win), as this particular outcome typically builds resentment in the accommodating party.  Competition (win/lose) should not be emphasized in relationships that you wish to continue, but may be an outcome in relationships that you wish to end.  Competition often leads to a concept referred to as “the backfire effect’, which is when a person hunkers down into their old beliefs rather than accepting new evidence to the contrary.  This happens because the person feels that they or their core values are under threat, so the response is typically formulated by the emotional centers of their brain.  It is difficult to change someone’s mind when that person feels attacked.  Human beings are a social species.  Minds grow through connection.

John Windsor – Mandt Faculty

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