Conflict resolution practitioners know that when someone keeps repeating themselves – mentioning the same issue, retelling the same story, or circling back to the same detail – something important is getting missed. In fact, in a conflict situation, saying the same thing again and again often means the speaker feels unheard or unacknowledged and is probably also unwilling to effectively collaborate on resolving the dispute in that moment.
Here at ADR Vantage, we have found there are at least three effective techniques that you can employ to help shift from repetition to resolution, to respond to and manage conflict more productively.
- Start Focusing on the now. When in conflict, it can be tempting to either get stuck talking about the past (past wrongs, past history or past mistakes) or to rush towards the future (quick fixes, easy solutions or escalating frustrations). When you are in the middle of a dispute, it can be particularly challenging to stay in the here and now and really listen to what someone is trying to tell us. One thing you can try is setting aside the urge to resolve the conflict in that moment and focus more on the quality of the conversation itself. In essence – Listen more and talk less. You can do this by ask open-ended questions that invite the other person to tell you more about how they are feeling and what impact the situation has had on them. At least for the moment, make it more about the way you talk to one another and less about where the conversation will end up.
- Offer Acknowledgement. When someone keeps repeating themselves it is typically a sign that they don’t think you really understand or value what they are telling you. And, as humans we all have an innate desire to feel heard and appreciated. So this can be the perfect time to slow down, listen to understand where the other person is coming from, and genuinely acknowledge what they are saying. Try saying, “Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention. It sounds like you are looking for more communication from me when we have a project deadline” or “You’ve mentioned this incident a few times, tell me more about what happened” or “I appreciate you coming to me. What else do I need to know about this situation?” Acknowledging someone else does not mean you have to agree with them. It’s really about showing the other person that you see them and want to hear their perspective.
- Get Curious. It’s so easy to assume we know what someone else is thinking or the best way to resolve a situation. In fact, when conflict is really intense, it’s difficult to make space for new information or new perspectives. If you keep hearing the same thing from someone else, it may be a good time to stop and think to yourself “what don’t I know?” Consider asking some open-ended questions that invite the other person to tell you more. Maybe there is something you don’t know, maybe they can share another perspective or maybe it just helps to spend a few minutes listening for what is most important to the other person. If you can convey genuine interest and curiosity about what the other person is thinking and feeling, it often de-escalates tension, allows the other person to feel heard and ultimately, that person may be more willing to start listening to you. Try asking questions that start with “who, what, where, where, how” such as “What happened the last time this problem came up?”, “Where can we get more information?”, “How do you feel when that happens?”, “How would you like to see this resolved?”, etc.
A great colleague and friend of mine at ADR Vantage, Inc., Rick Buccheri, says that when someone is repeating themselves in a conflict situation, they are giving you permission to address that topic or concern. So, if something is important enough to them to keep coming back to it, it should be important enough for you to address. The next time you are in a conflict situation, try the above-suggested techniques to help move you from repetition to more productive conflict resolution!
Tara B Taylor, MPA, Managing Director