Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Managing Conflict with Choices.

I was at a pub the other day, enjoying a pint and pleasant conversation with my significant other. Two tables over sat an older couple, not looking very happy. In front of the gentlemen, lets call him Frank, looked to be a steak of some sort.

Frank clearly was not impressed by the steak presented to him. He was going to do something about it.

When the waitress asked him if everything was OK, Frank unloaded with a tsunami of abuse. The waitress appeared to handle the first onslaught well, and politely informed Frank she would talk to the kitchen staff and the manager.

Frank would not let up. He kept repeating that he had wasted his time, he did not want a new steak, he did not want to talk to the manager. He was angry, and wanted the entire place to know.

The waitress responded with the finest display of conflict management I have seen in a restaurant. Here is what she did.

Her first step was to lower her voice volume. This showed subconsciously that she is not trying to challenge him. Taking the competition out of the confrontation helps disarm.

She then spoke in a noticeably slower but very calm, and non condescending tone. By speaking slower, she reduces the confrontation energy that Frank is feeding off of.

She showed understanding, and related to Frank by listening to everything he had to say. She further went on to agree that she would be irritated as well. By showing she agreed, she is now showing she is an ally and not the enemy.

She then gave choices, in the form of a question. Her choices included a new steak, a free meal voucher, or a free bottle of wine with his next meal. By putting her choices in the form of a question, she forced Frank to go into his own problem solving mode. Questions are processed by the brain very different then statements. So when she put her options in the form of a question, Franks brain responded.

Frank opted for the meal voucher, and left looking a little embarrassed.

The waitress brushed this off as another day at work.

When dealing with an angry situation, you can have a significant impact on the outcome by taking a few quick steps.

Watching your volume, cadence, and energy, you can help take some of the fuel from the fire. Show understanding by listening and relating. Give choices in the form of questions, and be calm.

Copyright © 2009 Peter MacSweeney.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author is forbidden. Contact the author through the comment form for all inquiries, including media.

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