5 ways to avoid conflict when communicating

First, a quick story.

I recall a situation recently where I was trying to help someone walk through a difficult task. I was doing this remotely – sending instructions via email – to someone in a different state. Unfortunately, my instructions were misinterpreted.

This person spent many frustrating hours trying to find a solution to the problem before finally reaching back out to me for clarification and help. I walked them through as much as I could, while troubleshooting the issue from every possible angle. However, we weren’t able to make much progress.

The next day, seemingly out of nowhere, this person sent me an email stating they were extremely frustrated and were ready to completely give up altogether. There was also language in the email hinting that I was to blame.

At first, I took offense to this. My instinct was to respond hastily and defend myself. After thinking about it for a minute or two, I took a deep breath and decided to respond as professionally as possible. I offered to help, using a sincere and positive tone. My offer was accepted, and we began working on the problem again. After trying a few options, we still didn’t get very far. I suggested calling a third party to provide some additional help. With their assistance, the problem was solved. Any notion of previous frustration was forgotten about and all was right in the world again.

Here are 5 things that happened in this situation to help me avoid conflict.

Maybe some of these will help you with your next communication crisis.

  1. Take a breath. If you can’t say anything nice, take time to walk away from your computer. Maybe go for a walk. Get a drink of water. Talk it over with a coworker. If you take time to think about what you’re going to say, you might avoid of shooting off an emotional response that you may regret later.
  2. Remain professional. You’re a representative of your organization. You ultimately have control over how you’re perceived to others. A simple act of good customer service will change the way you’re remembered, long after a conflict passes.
  3. Remain positive. Even if you can’t solve the problem, choose to use words that offer support and encouragement. Offer to help in any way possible, and remain upbeat and positive.
  4. Pick up the phone. Your words and your tone can be easily misconstrued when using email alone. A phone call might be all that’s needed to set things straight.
  5. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have the answer. You might save time (and money) by going straight to someone who can help; rather than spinning your wheels. In this case, going to a third party for help quickly resolved our issue.

How about you? What methods do you use to avoid conflict?


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