AKA: Not cool, man
No matter how famously you get along with your band mates, at one point or another you will find yourself, at the very least, disagreeing about something. This is one of the downsides of human interaction. Whether it’s creative differences or something on a more personal note, resolving conflict is never easy. In most cases, though, working through your dispute is ideal for the future of your band and, ultimately, your own success.
So just how do you get to the other side of a trouble spot in your musical road? Experts agree there are a handful of steps that are relatively universal in most partnerships. Here are some helpful ways to let the healing begin.
Step 1: Identify the problem.
The reasons for conflict can range from annoying to life threatening. The key is to discern the root of the issue. Was there an incident that caused a rift or is it a philosophical approach that clashes with your own? The discussion will look different depending on your answer to the above question. How serious is the issue at hand? Will it negatively affect the band’s future? Is it possible you have a part to play in the problem (i.e. something you might be doing to incite this person)?
Step 2: Be specific.
If there is something definitive other than – “He just bugs me” – you will have a better chance of sorting through things and being heard. Attacking the person’s character will create a defensive posture in your band mate. It’s ideal to address the problem without striking at the person’s identity or worth. You don’t want to hinder the future of your band by making hurtful comments that will not soon be forgotten. Solutions are the goal, not more lingering tension. Here’s an example of what addressing a specific issue might look like: “Hey John, I noticed it’s been hard for you to get to rehearsal on time. You’re a great guitarist. Is there a reason 7pm isn’t working for you?” This is a pretty cut-and-dry example and conflict can definitely be much stickier than this, but the sentiment of understanding and openness in the above example still applies in most cases.
Step 3: Ask earnest questions and be willing to listen.
This is a tough one if you are feeling particularly irked. However, there are very few cases in life where going into a conversation with your guns blazing is a good idea. Depending on how long the problem has existed for you, there’s a very good chance your musical co-worker doesn’t know they have affronted you. From the time you crossed over into Peeved-ville until the time you actually talk to the person about your concerns, you may have built up a false narrative about them. “They’re doing it on purpose.” “He knows it bothers me, but he does it anyway.” “She must really not like me.” The problem is, the person in question may have no idea their actions effected you, much less offended you – especially if you haven’t mentioned it in the past. There’s a good chance he or she means nothing by their actions and doesn’t even know you are stewing about it. Is it possible they know they’re bothering you? Sure. But it’s always a good rule of thumb to give your band mate the benefit of the doubt.
When you approach your colleague, do it when you are calm and willing to hear them out. Have some genuine questions ready for them. People are more willing to discuss difficult subjects when they feel safe. Attacking first and asking questions later leaves no room for an explanation or a game plan for solutions. Listening is key at this point. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and listen in the way you would want them to listen to you. It is better to let them finish without interruption. And while you’re listening, try to be mindful of your body language and facial expressions. Once you’ve heard them out, process what they’ve said and respond. Note: This is where it benefits you to know what kind of processor you are. If it takes time to unpack the implications of what is being said to you, you may let the person know that you will need time to think. Here’s what that might look like: “Hey, I may need some time to process what you’ve said. Can we talk more about this once I’ve chewed on it for a bit?” You may find that the person you are talking to needs time to think about what you are saying to them. It might be a good idea to afford them the same space for processing.
Step 4: Work toward solutions.
Once you have both had the chance to talk about your situation and have agreed on the problem in question, it’s best not to get stuck in activities that will only exacerbate the problem (i.e. blaming, dwelling on the past, pointing out faults). Sometimes during these conversations it becomes apparent that your actions or reactions have impacted the relationship or circumstance negatively. Try to be cognizant of ways you can help the situation. It’s never easy admitting you were wrong, but it is sometimes necessary to move on. Once you have acknowledged (and apologized for) any misdeeds on your part, it’s time to collaborate on solutions. This is a team effort. You can start with questions like, “How do you think we should move forward?” or “What are some things we can do to improve the situation?” Be prepared to bring your own ideas to the table too. Remember too, when only one party’s needs are fulfilled, the conflict isn’t really resolved and will probably continue. This is why it pays to really work with the other person to find answers that work for everybody. This is a process and may take some time to navigate.
Step 5: Verbally agree upon a solution.
This step gets missed many times. The importance of verbally agreeing on the solution is that you both walk away from the conversation knowing what is to be done, what is expected of you, and what to do if problems arise in the future. Verbally agreeing on your solutions will ensure you are all on the same page and helps clarify any expectations that were previously ambiguous. It may feel awkward, but you both need to say it aloud. It might go something like this, “I agree that creative collaboration is what’s best for our relationship and the band’s future. Moving forward, I will be more open to your creative input.” The other person also needs to verbalize agreement and responsibility. Also, you both need to assent to a viable plan for what to do if arguments occur in the future.
Note: What happens if you follow these steps and things still suck? Unlike your average sitcom, life and relationships generally do not get sorted out in a half hour segment. These things take time. If you feel that after having gone through these steps and really tried to work with the person things are not smoothing out, you may consider bringing an impartial third party into the situation. Whether it is a mutual trusted friend or a professional mediator, having someone who has no vested interest in one side versus the other could be helpful. If you can work through your problems, you will have a stronger bond with the other person, which translates to better chances of success for your band.