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Three R approach to navigating conflicts

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

#TLDR: Retract-Rethink-Reengage approach to convert conflicts into partnerships


All of us at work face conflicts small and large. Each conflict if managed deftly, creates an opportunity to your professional capabilities. If not managed correctly, conflict becomes a threat to your professional reputation. There are many ways to navigate such situations and today, I would like to talk about three R approach, passed down to me by an old colleague many moons ago.


First R - Retract: When you realize the conflict, it is better to retract from the situation to avoid your emotions/ego acting over. You can retract by using statements like, "I realize that we have a conflict, let me review my data again" or "Time-out! I would like us to stop discussions here and reconvene tomorrow" or "You raise a fair point, let me go back and check with my team". Such neutral statements provide an opportunity for both sides to de-escalate the situation quickly.


Second R - Rethink: Each conflict offers us an opportunity to rethink our approach and past instances. Such rethinking is especially useful when you have retracted from a fresh conflict and figuring out the "why". During rethink, the goal is to come out with a different approach than the one that landed you in the conflict. As you are removed from the situation and time pressure, such rethink allows you to remember past similar instances either with the same person/group/team or with different ones. You may find some similarities (e.g. I spoke too early, I didn't explain my argument well enough, I sprung a surprise on the team, I made someone else feel insecure by stepping on their 'professional toes') and some revelations (e.g. "recently Tom is acting like this with others too", "whenever anybody talks about finances, Jack and Casey become uncomfortable" or "I always get uneasy when John interrupts"). By spending some quality time with such reflections, you are more likely to come up with a more constructive approach to the original conflict.


Third R - Reengage: The most important step! As you have to work with your counter parts through the conflicts, re-engaging is a critical skill. Keep in mind that the other parties might be raw from the conflict and may approach you with a bias. However, being objective and calm helps re-engagement. Re-engagement works well with following steps, a) Summarize the subject of last conflict (and not who said what), b) State what you have found out since last time (keep it to facts and avoid emotional statements), c) Ask for new opinions. Most of the times, such objective re-engagement will allow your counterparts to look at the issue without emotional filters.


Of course, this 3R approach is not a silver bullet to solve conflicts, but repeated application allows you to respond to conflicts in a more balanced manner and helps your professional image.


How do you manage conflicts? What has been your experience with 3R? Share w us here!

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