How to…deal with personality clashes

Five steps to better conflict resolution with clients.

All human beings have experienced conflict: as a child (especially as an adolescent), in relationships and at work. In this we are all the same, writes Steven Jones, director of SPACE Training.

But whatever the degree of influence we may have over other people, we have 100% influence over ourselves. This is a first step in learning how to work with conflict – deal with yourself.

As Leo Tolstoy said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, no one thinks of changing himself.”

Here are five steps to better conflict resolution with clients.

1 Awareness

Your first responsibility is to your own safety. Be aware of the risks in the environment, pay attention to what people are saying and the way that they are behaving. Ensure you can leave at any point. The fight or flight response evolved for a reason so be aware of your own feelings and intuition.

2 Don’t join in

Two parties are needed to cause conflict, both with responsibility for their actions. You may need to resist your natural reactions and impulses because conflict develops energy of its own if it is allowed to spiral. The louder the other person becomes, the quieter you should talk. Use breathing techniques to keep calm and relax your hands and jaw muscles.

3 You don’t have to win

In tai chi you are taught that, if someone pushes you, yield then deflect their energy – you don’t push back. The same principle applies in heated debates or any other conflict. It is our ego that insists on winning. Anyone working with young people in care will know that confrontation is rarely a good idea. Go around the houses then return to the point.

4 Tune in to the person

Use all the senses you have available. Make sure the other person knows you are giving them all your attention. Listen for clues as to what the clash is about and work at interpreting their language and behaviour. Be bold, ask questions.

5 Reflect

Reflect on the ways you deal with conflict in all aspects of your life. Are they working for you? Are you happy with your approach? Are you assertive or aggressive or passive? Do you adopt the parent or adult or child approach to clashes? Professionally or personally? You can always change for the better but you can only discover how by reflecting.

SPACE Training was launched in 1991 to provide accessible, straightforward and practical training. It offers person-centred solutions with training programmes for people supporting adults, children and young people

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