Have you ever had a conflict with a teammate because they did something that frustrated you?
If you’ve spent any time in the workplace, the answer is most likely, “Yes.” Differences in perspective, opinion, and style can get in the way of even the friendliest working relationship. And those differences can lead to misunderstandings, mistakes, irritation, and hurt feelings.
The reality is that collaboration is key in most workplaces. And because we’re all human, with collaboration comes the possibility of conflict. So how can we minimize the chances of escalating a conflict with a colleague?
We can use the OFNR method of communication.
Conflict? Try OFNR.
Developed in the 1960s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg as part of his approach to nonviolent communication, the “Observation, Feelings, Needs, Request” method gives us a structure so we can talk about our experiences in a way that invites dialogue instead of disagreement.
Let’s look at each part of OFNR.
In tense situations, we often jump to conclusions based on our assumptions. We think, “Becky was late giving me the data. Therefore, Becky is a lazy bum.” We don’t honestly know why Becky’s data was late reaching us, but we fill in the blanks and allow our reaction to be influenced by what we think happened.
Instead of getting caught up in a (potentially incorrect) story we tell ourselves, we can pause, take a step back, and look at just the facts of the situation. Then, instead of relying on our interpretations and assumptions, we can talk about our observations with our teammate – no judgments attached.
Once we know the facts, we can then talk about how we felt in the situation. “I felt stressed and worried about missing the deadline when I didn’t get the data on time.” Sharing how we felt with our colleague gives them a clearer understanding of why there’s tension between us.
The incident we’re describing resulted in needs not being met. What was the missed outcome? What should have happened but didn’t? We can talk about these unmet needs with our co-worker. These needs might be individual ones – “I couldn’t give Liz my report on time without the data.” They could also be team or organizational needs – “Management needed the report by noon on Tuesday to get the slides ready for the shareholder meeting.”
The final step is asking for what we need. And the key word is “ask.” By framing our request as an ask rather than a demand, we’re minimizing the chances that the person will be so defensive that they shut us out completely. “Would you be willing to give me next quarter’s numbers three days before the deadline? That’ll give us time to clear up any questions before the report goes to Liz.”
Tips for Using OFNR to Resolve Conflict
The OFNR structure isn’t meant as a way to scold or lecture. It’s a dialogue between two folks with different experiences who are trying to get to a resolution that works for both of us.
It can be helpful to also be prepared for unexpected answers. For instance, maybe Becky’s data was late because of a family medical emergency. Approaching the conversation with curiosity and avoiding jumping to conclusions gives us the time and space to get to the heart of what caused the problem.
And it’s important to keep in mind that our nonverbal communication influences how the conversation goes. Even if we say the “right” words using the OFNR structure, if we say them with an edge in our voice while scowling at our teammate, we’ll probably trip some defensive wires in the other person.
Avoiding the Assumption Trap
Using OFNR helps us avoid falling into the quicksand of our assumptions while also giving us a way to ask for change that will benefit everyone involved. Rather than avoiding conflict and letting it fester, or blowing up in a way that’s unproductive and unprofessional, we can use the OFNR structure to resolve conflicts in a healthy way.
Want to learn more about having difficult conversations? Check this out!