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R.I.S.K.™ is the key to resolving conflict productively

Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a part of life. And contrary to what you may think about conflict, it can lead to creative outcomes that everyone can get behind—if you handle it right. In our leadership workshop, The You Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration, we utilize the R.I.S.K.™ model for managing conflict.

Every time we enter into a conflict, there's risk. Risk that it will get worse, risk we'll get hurt or we hurt someone else. The R.I.S.K.™ model provides a framework for you to move from reaction to response and come to that positive outcome more quickly.

Here’s how it works:

R is for “Remove yourself from emotional responses”

When we say “remove” we’re not being figurative, as if “remove” meant to go to your “happy place” in your brain. We mean remove—get up and leave. You need to get yourself centered. You’ve been triggered.

When you’re in conflict, adrenaline and noradrenaline course through your system, prepping you for drastic action. When we’re confronted non-life-threatening circumstances in the workplace, we respond with the same unconscious primal urges. We put on a calm face, sure—but inside, the primitive parts of our brain are saying “fight!” or “flee!”

We call this “brain hijack.” The technical term is hyperarousal. Point is, you’re liable to hear things wrong or misinterpret what other people are saying. You’re liable to react rather than respond. Your brain’s not working right!

You’re no good staying in the conflict. Remove yourself and get calm.

Here are some things you can say to exit the conversation gracefully:

  • “I need to take moment before I can respond to this.”

  • “I need to process this. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

  • “Can we schedule some time to address this later today?”

Once you are away from the situation, find a secluded spot and do some deep breathing to bring down both your heart rate and adrenaline response. Sit in a chair or lie on the floor—as long as someone isn’t liable to walk in!

  • Close your eyes.

  • One hand goes over your stomach and the other goes over your rib cage. You want to feel your inhales and exhales.

  • Inhale through your nose, allowing your belly to expand, followed by your rib cage and upper chest.

  • Exhale slowly and fully through pursed lips, reversing the sequence—upper chest, rib cage, belly.

  • Do this four or five times or until you feel calm

This should get you out of “high alert” so you can think rationally.

I is for “Identify interests and behaviors of all parties”

In this calm frame of mind, return to the scene of the conflict with a curious mind. You have mission: understand where the person/people on the other end of the conflict area coming from. When we’re triggered in a conflict situation, we can make all kinds of assumptions about behaviors and fall into the trap of misinterpretations about the other person.

But, we need to examine—we’re those interpretations correct?

You’re only going to find out by asking questions. Ask, “I see that this is something that is important to you and I’d like to hear more about your perspective.” If you’re sincere, the other person will probably sense it and feel you’re taking them seriously. (If you’re not sure if you can be sincere, repeat deep breathing exercise!)

The technical term for what you’re doing is “cognitive reappraisal.”

This requires active listening. Most people listen to reply, not to understand. You prepare in your mind what you’re going to say when the person stops talking. Everything runs through the filter created by your past experiences and inclinations. Does what they’re saying line up with what you see as to how life works? If not, it’s discounted—not a good attitude for generating collaboration!

You’re trying to reframe the situation—describe it from the other person’s perspective.

S is for “Share constructive responses, both active and passive”

In our leadership workshop, The You Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration, we introduce, and practice, active-constructive and passive-constructive conflict behaviors, both are which are meant to drive toward a solution everyone can get behind.

The constructive behaviors focus on the task at hand or the ideas being discussed. (Meanwhile, the destructive behaviors focus on personalities—finding fault—and put us at risk for heart disease, insomnia, and depression.)

Constructive behaviors can take a situation full of tension and turn it into one that is energizing and positive.

The difference between active-constructive and passive-constructive is that the active behaviors are readily observable by everyone in the room while passive behaviors take place inside your head.

Here are a few active-constructive behaviors you can use to help move from conflict to collaboration:

Perspective taking—put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How are they viewing this conflict? Look for ways to increase your knowledge and seek to understand where they’re coming from.

Creating solutions—brainstorm with the party in the conflict to identify an outcome that supports both sides; moving from adversary to ally.

Adapting—remain flexible and open to innovative solutions, staying alert for signs that the other person may be ready to try resolving the conflict.

K is for “Keep the discussion on task”

Don’t get drawn into blame—statements like “stop being so emotional” or “this is all your fault!” Instead, say things like “I can understand why this would be important to you” and “I want to resolve this with you. What can we do together to find a solution that works for both of us?”

If you focus on using constructive behaviors and keep your focus on the ideas you’re discussing you can turn conflict into an opportunity for growth for everyone. It can lead to healthy dialogue and debate, which in turn may result in better decision-making.

Wrapping up

Remember, every time you get into conflict there’s the risk that the situation will escalate with hurt feelings and damaged relationships. The R.I.S.K.™ model provides an easy framework for you to use to move from conflict to collaboration and build trusting relationships. Conflict is going to happen. It’s part of life. But you can create positive outcomes by taking a R.I.S.K.™

Want to learn more? Check out our workshop The You Turn: From Conflict to Collaboration. During this interactive online leadership development session, participants complete and receive a personalized report of their Conflict Dynamics Profile that measures their tendency to engage in constructive and destructive behaviors.


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