Community of Practice – Compassion in Conflict

Compassion in Conflict
“Conflict is simply energy – the energy caused by a gap between what you want and what you are experiencing. This energy can be misused in ‘drama’ or harnessed to create something positive and useful.”

This is just one of many insights human-centered communication expert Ilona Vass shared at our final #BetterTogether Know Your Customers and Communities event for 2022.

With ‘conflict’ a common feature of infrastructure projects, it’s essential we build capability around compassionate, human-centered conflict strategies.

In the session, Ilona introduced several handy ideas to help us conceptualise, understand, and apply compassion in conflict situations.

Here’s our wrap up of the top tips from the session…

Tip 1 – Remember there is a purpose in conflict: to ‘create’.

We have conflict because, in the creation process, we bring a diversity of opinions and perspectives, which can lead to misunderstanding. Reminding ourselves that conflict serves a purpose is the first step in taking a more positive approach to managing it.

Tip 2 – Positive and negative energies

If we think about conflict as a gap in energy – we can then differentiate between the positive and negative energies being created. When energy is used as a weapon, the result is unhelpful ‘drama’, where those involved need to be right, justify their position and intention and stay emotionally detached.

When conflict is met with compassion, those involved connect at a human level, invite collaboration, listen with empathy, and aim to move forward with mutual agreement. Applying a compassionate approach is not only more likely to resolve the conflict, but helps to avoid ‘explosive’ responses and results in a much more positive experience for those involved. 

Tip 3 – The 4 C’s to work towards conflict with compassion

When approaching conflict with compassion, there’s four ‘C’s’ to work toward – ‘Courage’, ‘Clarity’, ‘Conversations’ and ‘Consistency’.

  1. Courage – we must be willing to move away from an emotionally detached position and address the emotions sitting at the heart of the problem.
  2. Clarity – it’s critical to stay clear on your message and avoid confusion by changing positions in ‘the heat of the moment’. By being transparent, we allow other party the opportunity understand our perspective and consider our suggestions for an agreeable solution.
  3. Conversation – we must make time to have the conversations that allow us to listen deeply and find mutually aggregable pathways forward. Resolutions cannot be found without a willingness to keep the conversation going.
  4. Consistency – the above C’s need to be applied consistently. Remaining clear, being consistent in our willingness to converse and staying courageous, is crucial to avoiding drama-fuelled, adversarial communication.

Tip 4 – Open communication.

This can be challenging, especially in situations where the other party is aggressive, however, open communication is a great tactic for keeping conversations on track toward a solution. In the frame of conflict communication, openness means being emotionally transparent and creating a safe space for others, including by maintaining the mindset that all parties are worthwhile. Empathising with other parties by sharing a similar personal experience, or showing that you resonate with their experience is one way to keep a conversation open.

It’s also essential to validate the other person’s emotions, including by asking questions around the feelings that are being felt and talking time explore them together. It can be helpful to actively disclose your own emotions also, for example, by letting the other person know how you are feeling about the conversation. Being open doesn’t mean being vulnerable in a way that makes you feel unsafe, or in a way that is not relevant to solving the specific problem at hand – it simply means being willing to connect with the other person on a human level

So, why does this matter?

Inevitability, infrastructure projects across the water and energy sector will involve conflict because of the creation process. As the energy sector embarks on a once-in-a-generation infrastructure build to transition to renewables, community and landholder engagement is increasingly in the spotlight. With hundreds of conversations occurring with impacted landowners, host communities and advocates every day, it’s essential that those responsible have the skills and know-how to manage conflict with compassion.

Positive conflict strategies not only reduce the inevitable costs of miscommunication and increase the likelihood of reaching a mutually agreed solutions faster, they also materially reduce stress and improve the experience for all involved.

This event was held as part of The Energy Charter’s #BetterTogether Know Your Customers and Communities collaboration with Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA). This unique collaboration connects water and energy sector participants with a new guest speaker every month, to discuss customer and community engagement and facilitate a practical conversation on how to apply better practice in business.

Thanks to Ilona Vass for sharing her knowledge on this very important topic. To learn more about Ilona’s work on communication and positive conflict strategies visit: Dancing with the Dragons – Leadership and Team Communication Expert