The dictionary defines patience as “the state of bearing pain or trials without complaint; showing self-control; calm.” In times of conflict or negotiation, exhibiting patience can have a powerful impact on the outcome.
Many conflicts start because of unfulfilled needs in the areas of control, recognition, affection, or respect. It is common for people to react quickly and fiercely when faced with circumstances that seem to threaten these basic human needs. Patience, though, often involves “not reacting,” at least not immediately, to an uncomfortable situation. Giving yourself (and others) a little time during the process can greatly enhance the possibility of a successful resolution.
How are time and patience beneficial? It takes time to do the following:
- Understand all the issues
- Know what the other person really wants
- Discuss alternative explanations
- Reflect on your own expectations and the reality of the situation
- “Cool down” your emotions
- Change your mind
- Allow for an apology or forgiveness
John Quincy Adams said, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” Could this be true for resolving conflicts? Let’s look at specific tips for maintaining patience when all of your instincts push you toward an immediate reaction.
Don’t rush the process.
Offering simplistic answers and jumping to conclusions too early in the process can be irritating to people. Allow time to really define the problem, and brainstorm creative alternatives.
Practice simple courtesies.
What kinds of behaviors do impatient people exhibit? They look at their watches, interrupt, ask others to hurry up, tap their feet, don’t allow others to finish their thoughts, etc. Be aware of these behaviors, and add a few seconds to your normal response time. Be willing to pause before speaking; there is nothing wrong with a few moments of silence.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
Nothing leads faster to mutual understanding than when both people in a conflict truly focus on listening to each other. Make a deliberate effort to temporarily suspend your own needs, and really tune into what the other person is saying. Try not to concentrate on formulating your next thought, and control the urge to tell your side, interrupt, or argue. Most importantly, demonstrate you are genuinely invested in the other person’s views by restating his/her positions in your own words. Then ask the person to correct your understanding of his/her thoughts and feelings. This acknowledgement should encourage the other person to respond in a reciprocal manner.
Know your own hot buttons.
You know the kinds of people with whom you struggle. Think of calming tactics ahead of time when meeting with them. Do your best to understand them without judging. Don’t assume they mean harm by their words and actions.
When discussions get particularly stressful, don’t be afraid to take a short break to calm your emotions and re-focus your energy. These breaks may be an opportunity to reconsider options you were reluctant to adopt earlier in the heat of the moment.
Remain flexible and optimistic.
When a conflict is just beginning, both sides have a limited view of the whole picture. As the process unfolds, new information is brought to light and viable solutions are discovered. Try to validate and affirm the areas of agreement rather than totally focusing on the issues where there is disagreement. Be willing to break the problem into smaller elements or reframe the issues to put them in the proper perspective. Most of all, stay optimistic about the chances for success. One of the biggest obstacles to conflict resolution is the belief that any particular conflict cannot be resolved.