Carl Mays: You can help resolve conflicts

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

A business manager told me recently about how much of her time is spent dealing with one conflict or another at work. She said, “It appears to me that good, solid interpersonal communications skills is one of the most valuable skills needed in the business world.” I said she could eliminate the word “business.” When she asked what I meant, I replied that such a skill is one of the most needed skills in the “world” – period.

Think about it. Look at all the conflict going on in just about every conceivable area: politics/government, religion, education, families – and on and on and on. It appears “the world” just can’t get together on things.

Today’s societal situation reminds me of the story about two skunks walking by a chemical plant. One skunk, almost overcome by an incredible odor emitting from the plant, sniffed the air and said, “For goodness sake, what in heaven’s name is that?” The second skunk sniffed the air and replied, “I don’t know, but I’ve sure got to get some of it!” Different strokes for different folks. What appears to be great to one person may just plain ole’ stink to another person.

To help resolve all the conflict going on in society, we certainly don’t need to surrender our values, standards, beliefs or loyalties. But we do need to inspect, dissect and really have a true awareness of these elements and why they exist in our individual and group lives.

I think many of us realize and agree that being a good listener is vital to interpersonal communications. This includes active listening that involves asking good, honest questions based on what you believe the other person is saying. That helps the other person clarify his or her viewpoints as it helps you understand.

We need to empathize with one another as much as possible. This involves working toward putting yourself in another person’s shoes and trying to see the situation through his or her eyes, taking into account cultural, racial, experiential and other differences.

Of course, the quickest way to help defuse and initiate a workable resolution to any conflict is to find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if you do not agree with the basics of what is being said. An honest response such as, “I can understand why you would feel like that,” lets the person know you are attempting to see something from his or her viewpoint. This opens the door to developing some clarification, valuable feedback and better teamwork.

Successfully expressing an honest “I feel” statement is a major skill in interpersonal communications. It helps the other person see that you are, indeed, attempting to “see where he or she is coming from.” And, if any part of the conflict is a result of something you or someone under your command has said or done, rather than escalating a negative situation it helps get to the nitty-gritty of what can be done by all sides to work toward resolution.

In a recent column I shared a statement by psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger and often emphasized by founding father of the National Spears Association Cavett Robert: “Human acts are committed far more often through the dictates of feelings and emotions than through logic and reason.” A major point to keep in mind is that if we can deal with both the feelings/emotions side as well as present a non-combative explanation of the logical side, we can go a long way in establishing a collaborative resolution to the conflict.

© 2013 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author, whose mentoring site is based on his "A Strategy For Winning" book and program. Contact or view