I asked a group of parents recently: when would you discuss your teenager’s school performance after a parents’ evening where teachers had made complaints? They said they would not even wait to get home! Guess what they said when I asked them how they thought the conversation would go…?!
As Chandler from the popular Friends TV series said in an episode – “All right, look if you absolutely have to tell her the truth, at least wait until the timing’s right. That’s what deathbeds are for.”
Chandler had the idea. Timing is crucial to managing conflict, enhancing relationships and achieving worthwhile results. Unfortunately as with the parents I talked with, we often tend to address conflict when our emotions are running high. The emotional blowout can feel great, really getting matters off our chest, but it guarantees that we are in reactive mode and that others will react to us.
Why is timing essential to resolving conflict? The more emotional we feel about the topic the greater the potential to be reactive. When our emotions run high we experience physiological changes including increases in adrenaline, heart rate, blood pressure, sweat, muscle tension, and breathing (that’s the least of it!). This is useful when we are preparing to physically defend ourselves but rather counter-productive when talking to a teenager about their school report. Remember, there is a double whammy; very quickly the teenager will experience exactly the same physiological changes – what a pantomime!
What would happen if we delayed the interaction between parent and teenager? If the parent waited until the following morning they would find the world is still spinning on its axis, essential services are still being supplied, yet they would feel less emotional about the previous nights’ parent events – almost guaranteed. When we feel less emotional we have a greater chance to think and have a rational conversation. Most conflict situations benefit from a cooling off period. Don’t confuse the habitual nature of getting it off our chest with the actual need to do so. Apart from extreme emergencies there is little need or benefit to approaching a conflict situation when in an emotional state.
In work situations there are fewer opportunities to take time out because the customer may be demanding an instant result, but they do exist. If emotions are rising between you and the customer it is very professional to gather the facts, agree to check things out and to get back to them later (at an agreed time!). This provides both parties with the opportunity to ‘cool off’ and approach a possible remedy at a slightly later time. It also provides the time for greater creativity in finding a solution. We found an insurance company whose staff discuss insurance policies with experienced Financial Advisers in one conversation even though they have over 500 different policies. No wonder they get into difficulty trying to struggle their way through.
In more instant customer interactions the same principles apply. Be aware of when your adrenaline is rising (otherwise it is in control of you rather than the other way round!). Slow down your responses a little as we tend to speed up when we are in a conflict situation. Keep doing this, keep in control and experience an improvement in the quality of your interactions – (almost) guaranteed.