Thinking Differently about Conflict
By Dr. Peggy
When we think about conflict, many of us cringe. We avoid it, we ignore it, and we may try desperately to remain disengaged from it. However, when we allow ourselves to embrace conflict as a natural component of healthy relationships, we can learn tools and techniques that move us through conflict more quickly and resolutely. Dudley Weeks in “Eight Essential Step to Conflict Resolution” lays out a road map for us to successfully navigate through conflict.
Before we explore step one, it’s important that you can reframe conflict as natural and positive. Conflict arises when values clash, people are misunderstood, and/or differences have to be negotiated. Conflicts provide us with opportunities for growth when we approach them as win-win situations and not win-lose. Successfully resolved conflicts strengthen relationships, create more trust between people and can often prevent situations from reoccurring or mitigate the situations should they arise. Once you are able to reframe conflict as something that you can learn from, you can walk through the eight steps to ensure successful encounters and resolution with others.
Step 1. Create an atmosphere that generates opportunities for successful resolution. Weeks suggests that we consider four factors-preparation, timing, location, and opening statements. We prepare by making sure that we have thought through the issues and are in a positive frame of mind when we begin. We chose a time that suits both individuals. Finding a location where both parties can feel comfortable is essential to success. The opening statements should reflect your own positive attitude that both parties can successfully navigate the disagreement. For more information on opening statements, you might want to read “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. www.fierceinc.com/conversations
Step 2. Clarify perceptions. It’s vital that each party is clear about what the conflict is about. Using “I” statements and avoiding the use of “you” statements will go a long way to successful resolution. Ask questions and listen carefully to what is being said. If you find yourself, listening to respond or to provide a rebuttal, write down what is being said so that you can stay with the message. Try to separate the individual from the issue and acknowledge emotions that arise.
Step 3. State needs not wants. We live in an “I want” world yet successful resolution to conflict requires us to focus on what we need not simply want. I might want you to come home earlier from work yet what I need is more partnership energy from you with our children. If we use this analogy, we have to be careful not to state what we want as a need as it can escalate a conflict quickly.
Step 4. Build positive power. Most of us are familiar with the concept of power over which suggests that one person has power over another. Successful conflict resolution requires us to establish a “power partnership” with the other so that we share power. Power over leads to see-saw battles and can quickly end the resolution process. Instead, think about how you can work as a team to effectively solve the issue.
Step 5. Focus on the future, and then learn from the past. The one and only good reason to go back into the past is if there were positive solutions that occurred which you want to bring forward. In most conflicts, bringing up the past is a signal for escalation of the conflict. Reminding others of past failures leads to hurt feelings and typically withdrawal from the conversation. Instead acknowledge that we all fall short sometimes and move into a positive future.
Step 6. Look for alternatives in which both parties will benefit. Listening with an open mind to all alternatives can be difficult if we allow ourselves to evaluate the options as they are being generated. Instead, write down the options as you think of them and then go back to each one to see if there are opportunities for gain for each person. If both people do not benefit, it’s probably not a good solution.
Step 7. List actions steps that lead to a final resolution. Sometimes we are so impatient to solve a conflict that we forget that long-term solutions won’t be found in temporary fixes. What are the things you need to do today, next week, and next month to ensure that the conflict is fully resolved? It might include setting specific times for checking in with one another or doing something for a while to see if it really solves the conflict and then re-evaluating.
Step 8. Make agreements that meet the needs of both. As discussed earlier, if both parties do not have something to gain from the resolution, it will most likely fail. In order to have a conflict, two people are involved and being able to identify your own part of the conflict (even if you feel that you don’t have any part of it) will lead to long-term success. You have to own it to change it!
Resolving conflict is not an easy task. Rarely are we given tools for successfully negotiating conflict. We are taught the win-lose cycle from childhood into adulthood. Someone is right and someone is wrong. Using these eight steps challenges us to think differently about conflict and to look for ways to solve conflicts while preserving our relationships.
To Your Success!