Dealing with conflict and criticism is equally as good, as you perceive it to be bad. You learn more when being criticised, and you get a chance to show the world (your followers, fans, customers and staff) how you deal with pressure situations.
The worst two extremes you can resort to when dealing with conflict and criticism, is to on the one extreme avoid it, and on the other flip out over it. Either emotional extreme of fight or flight will likely stoke the fire and make the situation worse. To avoid it is to be delusional that it might just disappear, which it rarely, if ever does. To aggressively react to it is to make it worse.
As you get better and more successful, you will have to deal with and face head on conflict and criticism, much of it unwarranted and some of it needed to put you back into balance. I used to naively think as I got better it would get less. What an idiot I was to think that. You simply earn the right to go to the next, higher level or criticism, conflict and challenge. if you don’t deal with, accept and embrace this, the cost is your success and growth.
Here are 13 simple ways to deal with conflict and criticism effectively. Not all are easy:
1. Get clear on what the issue (really) is
People, yourself included, will bring and load their biases, motives, emotions and desires for revenge into a debate, negotiation, complaint or argument. These all cloud the true outcome. So you are wise to search beyond these veils to understand what the actual, specific resolution and outcome is. Not for you, but for them. Care to understand this, and they will likely be more open to meet you somewhere ‘in the middle’. Most people are looking to get what they want rather than to understand what the critic or complainant wants. Sometimes all they need to be is heard, cared for and understood.
2. Seek to learn/understand BOTH/all sides
The truth rarely exists in the extremes. Have you ever been caught between two people arguing, both doing a very compelling job at convincing you their argument is 100% correct. You get bounced between, sometimes getting drawn into believing one extreme, and then the other. Truth usually lives in the middle. Never rush to take sides. Always seek to learn and understand both and all sides of the criticism, complaint, debate and argument, before you wade in without the facts and make yourself look silly.
3. Manage your emotions (don’t do anything extreme)
Your emotions will spill and boil over as you go through the rollercoaster of conflict and criticism. Seek to notice it, then understand it, but not react to it without control. It is hard to take back something vicious or reactive that you say or do, so learn not to. Simply listen, be silent and go through a phase of ‘fact finding’ before you react blindly. Then follow the steps below. Your time will come to react and put your viewpoint across. Be patient my friend.
4. Ask what a good outcome for them would be
Seek to understand and care what outcome they desire. This will help calm them down, and help both of your move forward through the cyclical nature of conflict, to a linear outcome. Once you find it, usually at least 3 questions deep, then repeat it back to them to get it clear and agreed. Then set about moving towards this outcome in a patient and productive manner.
5. Focus on resolution, not dragging up the past
It is easy to blurt out everything you have been storing inside since 1985, but not productive towards an outcome. Leave the past where it is, if at all possible. Listen, keep quiet, allow them to raise their issues, then follow the next steps below to resolve the conflict.
6. Don’t blurt out everything you feel in the moment (will you regret this later)
If you let your extreme emotions overpower and control you, you will likely regret it later. Have you ever hastily replied to an email, only to regret it later? The ‘recall’ button can’t undo what you said. So sit, be quiet and let the emotion subside when you feel it boiling over. If you can’t, follow steps 7. & 8 below. You can learn to control your emotions better, by practising. See each time you get upset as an opportunity to test your new skills. If you find this hard…
7. Get mediators if required
Get people in the middle to manage the process of conflict and criticism who are more neutral, balanced and unbiased. These can be professional mediators or jointly appointed and agreed third parties who manage the agenda, actions and emotions. They will also reduce costs because this stops legal proceedings.
8. Get wise, smart counsel
Before you react publicly, and before you make any decision, seek wise counsel from trusted friends, mentors, business partners and those with direct experience in the conflicts and criticism you are currently facing. This has the double win of 1. allowing the cathartic release of your emotions onto them, like an emotional punch bag, and 2. getting experienced advice and guidance on proactive actions forward. Manage your inner voices that might not agree with them, do not take their feedback personally, and consider your response.
9. Make commitments/next actions to agreements
Through the process look for next steps and actions, like putting checkpoint flags in the ground along a journey. Then get agreement on them, note them down and give them a timeline if necessary.
10. How can you let them win, or allow them not to lose face?
As soon as anything becomes solely about revenge, winning and/or not backing down, you may have already lost. Discover a way that your critic or challenger can avoid being wrong, embarrassed or ashamed, especially publicly, and you will likely diminish their emotions…
11. ..but do NOT be bullied
In the past, managing conflict in this way felt like being weak. Strength is about doing what you know is right, not what is necessarily easy. I now feel that letting go of the need for control and one-up-manship is a strength, but this does not mean you allow yourself to be bullied and allow people to walk all over you. Some will misread your elegance under pressure as weakness and go for you. In areas that are highly important to you, and occasionally in causes and people you believe in, STAND UP to the bullies, trolls and haters, and put your viewpoint across firmly, fairly and factually. If you do this all the time about anything, you will drown yourself out in your own noise. Do this occasionally and people will take you seriously. Fight your battles, but pick them wisely.
12. Stick to facts and back them up
Facts are the only undeniable thing. Any emotion or viewpoint can be twisted or denied. But facts are facts. So stick to them. Use proof if required. Emotions cloud, complicate and distract from facts. Facts always bring themselves to the surface like cream rises to the top, so know that the truth will out in the end. Stay patient. Be cool. Have faith that facts will stand and last way longer than fleeting emotions or volatile people.
13. You are being judged more by how you manage conflict than easier scenarios
People are less concerned than you think about who is right and wrong, and more concerned with how people conduct themselves. People, customers and followers are often judging you through themselves, which means they will see you behaving to them like you behave to others. This speaks far more loudly than who is right and who is wrong. When experiencing challenge and criticism, you actually have an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise had to show the world who you really are; that you are calm, wise, trustworthy and fair. People like those traits, and will follow your lead. Embrace this and know that your conduct will long outlive what the criticism was actually about.
Conflict and criticism are rarely, if ever personal. They are usually someone else reacting to something you said or did, that reminded them of themselves, their past, their mistakes, their baggage and their pain. You simply picked a scab that was already there and hadn’t healed. And you are the same too. Understand this about them, and you are better able to maintain a balanced view, show empathy, and ultimately turn a critic into a fan and a conflict into an agreement. This is a practice that can be improved each time you do it. Each time it happens you get to test yourself and your skills.