I Don’t Like You – Manage conflict by clearly communicating expectations

Conflict arises for a number of reasons including personality clashes, contrasting beliefs, diverging values and conflicting interests.

“I hate her,” he says calmly looking straight in my eyes. I am at a birthday party sipping Prosecco, eating Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar chips (a personal addiction) and having a good time. All of a sudden the expression of the guest I am chatting with went from smiley to serial killer. He works with someone I befriended over the years, a beautiful, funny, intelligent woman. I thought of asking a harmless question about how she was, instead I ended up with a foot in my mouth after touching what seems to be a major conflict at work.

I really like the woman, I find her brilliant, kind, helpful and very professional. I don’t know well the gentleman I am talking to but he seems a reasonable, easy going type of guy. The only apparent truth at the moment is the striking gap of our perceptions. I feel puzzled.

“Why do you hate her?” I ask very surprised. “Cause she hates me,” he replies with a condescending stare. “Why would she hate you?” I insist knowing there isn’t much I can do to divert his frustration. “I don’t know but she does, I can tell.” The power of perception I think, the notion we all see reality with different eyes. Can you untangle such a strong negative impression of another human being?

Conflicts at work are part of life just as the air we breathe, and conflict management is a necessary skill too often neglected. To my undergraduate students who hate to work in teams (individualism has the strength of a tornado at twenty years old) I often point out that you can generally choose those you marry, that you cannot pick parents and relatives, and hardly have a say about those you end up working with. People in our professional lives are given to us by the apparent randomness of events.

Conflict arises for a number of reasons including personality clashes, contrasting beliefs, diverging values and conflicting interests. Life is not a popularity contest for those seeking sanity. More often than not conflict happens as a result of the “unsaid”, our pretentious assumption of knowing exactly where someone else might be standing despite our limited understanding of their thoughts and feelings.

Our expectations about what others think and why they do what they do is often a blueprint that has not been discussed with them but presumed. What seems crystal clear to me may not be that obvious for you. We cannot eradicate miscommunication and conflict, but we can develop the awareness of a few key elements required to improve the quality of our relationships when someone rubs us the wrong way.

Games People Play
Human beings get caught up in the games they play, and the need to be acknowledged is one of the strongest motives behind people’s actions. Eric Berne (1910-1970) devolved much of his work to Transactional Analysis (TA), the study of human interactions and how people express their deep seated beliefs about themselves, others and reality through behavior and communication patterns. We do not need to play psychologist to better understand a challenging interaction. The game of conflict is over when you decide not to step in it, which means opting for clear communication rather than dancing around issues, expressing feelings and thoughts rather than guessing.

Assertive Communication
Passive aggressive is hardly the solution. Assertive communication implies conveying a message across without judging the other person. I do not need to be agreeable to make my point across and acknowledge another point of view. Communicating assertively means to state thoughts and feelings without assuming the other knows them. Assertiveness implies active listening, asking for clarifications, overcoming appearances and above all, taking responsibility.

They Are Not After You
Do not take it personal, as people do what they do for reasons that often elude their own self-perception. At times it may seem a strategic attack against you, but much of people’s behavior has nothing to do with your qualities and shortcomings. You are not in their heads and their actions can be interpreted in million of different ways.

Pity Party Over
I thought you were different. It would not be the first time that people with an instinctual aversion to each other ended up schmoozing for life as best friends, great business partners and romantic lovers. Vice versa first impressions sometimes are followed by bitter disappointment. Managing conflict is taking into account there are infinite ways to look at life and interpret someone’s behavior.

You know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you Agent Starling?

Unless you have Hannibal Lecter perception, never assume that little you know about people is true. Fortunately there are not many mental cases eating human liver with Chianti wine, most of us are just clueless beings pursuing happiness and attention. Only time, patience and productive conversations will unveil the hidden potential of a human relationship.