Jumping Into Conflict

April 28, 2021

You do it every day.

A driver pulls out in front of you when you had the right of way. You assume he was just being rude, rather than distracted by a family tragedy. 

A co-worker is late to a meeting. You immediately believe that they don’t respect your time, but you later find out they got into an accident when someone pulled out in front them when they had the right of way (sound familiar?). 

Each is us is aware that jumping to conclusions can often lead to unnecessary conflict, so why do we do it so often and what can we do to mitigate that tendency?

In her book “Conflict Mastery, Questions to Guide You”, Cinnie Noble explains the tendency of drawing conclusions about another person’s character based upon their actions that irritate us.  “This sort of response – in which we attribute things to people without sure knowledge – may be due to factors such as our history with them or with similar situations or relationship dynamics.” 

She further explains that it may come from habitual inclination to find fault, be negative or pessimistic in general, or be untrusting of others.  It can also come from letting our vulnerabilities, insecurities and fears determine our interpretations.  “Whatever the reasons, when we do not have facts to support the conclusions we reach, conflict often arises.”

What’s most interesting to me about all these reasons that people jump to conclusions, none of them are based on the facts of the current situation. 

Katrina Ong is a healthcare strategy professional focused on product strategy, market research, and performance improvement.  She has seen how unnecessary conflict arises in the delivery of healthcare and personal care to people in home-based settings.  Katrina explained, “There may be a complaint from a manager or client about staff members’ tardiness, haggard appearance, taking a call while with a client.  But often, the issue is really that many carers are walking a tightrope – balancing caring for their clients who deserve respect and support, their own family who demand their care and attention, and their own personal and financial well-being.”

Katrina believes “Fundamental Attribution Error”, or the tendency to attribute a cause to someone’s character flaw rather than to the situation, to be the main cause of unnecessary conflict in these situations.  “Problem solving can only occur when we understand the context first and then determine ways to support individuals with their needs and goals in their own context.”

So what do we do if we want to reduce our tendency to jump to conclusions?  Katrina says, “Managers who don’t fall prey to the fundamental attribution error ask more questions to understand the situation, rather than honing in on the specific error.  Funnel questions like ‘Tell me more about what has been happening in your world these last few weeks’ surface far more context than asking why someone is repeatedly late. Rather than hearing ‘excuses’, managers can humanize their employees.” 

Cinnie also offers a good question that managers can ask themselves to check their inclination to jump to conclusions.  Ask yourself “If this situation was told to you by someone else going through this experience, what thoughts, or what other conclusions may occur to you?”  This kind of question can help you remove your unconscious or unintentional assumptions and biases.

Conflict management coaching can also be helpful.  The role of a conflict coach is to help people gain insights into themselves, consider other perspectives, challenge their assumptions, develop a plan to address the conflict, and practice how they want to communicate. If you think you might like to improve the way you respond to conflict, schedule a free 30 minute call with me by clicking the “Scheduling” tab at the top of the page.  

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