Conflict Leads to Distrust?

Someone asked; how does conflict impact the trust level? To most it seems pretty clear. Conflict works to destroy the trust between or among individuals. However, the reality is that it depends on how the conflict is handled. If conflict is perceived as negative or harmful to the situation, and therefore, needs to be avoided, then it probably will result in decreased trust. If, on the other hand, conflict is perceived as a natural and normal aspect of interpersonal relationships, then it can actually result in an increase of trust.

The key becomes how the conflict is handled. To make certain we are handling the conflict constructively here are a few tips.

  1. Test assumptions and inferences All human beings make assumptions and inferences as a natural part of making sense of the world. If I share what I am assuming about a situation or the inferences I’m concluding from a situation, I have a better chance of you understanding my behavior or comments. We now have a common understanding to build on to resolve our conflict. We can also determine whether my assumptions and inferences are correct or not.
  2. Share all the relevant information Many conflicts are the result of too little information or a misunderstanding of that information. Therefore, one way to constructively deal with conflict is to make certain as much information as possible about the situation is known. At the same time, it is critical that the information being shared directly relates to and is significant to the situation involved.
  3. Use examples Most people need concrete situations where they can see the concept in action. A specific example can demonstrate the idea being explored. People can develop a clear picture that they can relate to and understand the point being considered.
  4. Define critical words Language is very important to conflict. The words we use may have different meanings to others. Keep in mind that people bring their own definitions of the word to the situation. Therefore, we need to define the words we are using to help clarify our perception. Others can then decide to change their definition or at least adopt your definition for the time being to address the situation.
  5. Explain your reasoning and intent Make certain others are clear about your purpose, your intent. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Once the intent is known, you need to be clear about the process you used to reach your conclusions, your reasoning.
  6. Combine advocacy and inquiry When in a conflict situation it is very common and appropriate to advocate for your perspective. However, to get people to hear your perspective it works best if you first inquire about the other’s perspective. In fact, it really moves the conflict in a constructive manner if you first understand the other perspective before you share or advocate your perspective.

If these tips sound familiar, they should. These tips are a few of the suggested guidelines for facilitators when working with groups. You can find more information about these and other guidelines in The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz.

Hopefully, you can see that conflict does not automatically result in a decrease of trust. If handled well, conflict can actually increase the trust level. The next time you find yourself in a conflict that is critical to the way you work, think how you might use these tips. You might actually find the conflict leading to an increase of trust of the other parties.

Until next time, explore opportunities to increase trust when in a conflict.