Resolving Interpersonal Conflict – 3rd of 3

My business partner M.A. used to say, “Muller, we teach best what we most need to learn.”

So, I’ve been teaching myself about conflict over the last two weeks.  Here in Red is a summary of the first two RFL columns on the topic:

1: Heighten your awareness of conflict.  Awareness creates new choices.

2: Conflict is always mutual.

3: I am responsible for the way conflict affects me. Nobody makes me mad or anything else.

4. Don’t try to solve it . . . in one sit-down.

5.  Make it your goal to completely understand the other.   

6. To understand: Ask open-ended questions.  And use their words to deepen and broaden your (and often their) understanding of what they’re thinking and feeling.

The last two points in this series are as easy to say – and as hard to do – as these first 6.  They are:

7.  Demonstrate to the other that you understand both the ideas and the feelings they have expressed.  Yes, one more thing you or I have to do for them!!!

But hey, this stuff is magic.  If you do it right, conflict disappears.  Oh, yes, it may likely will return. Then you’ll practice magic again.  And magic like all arts and difficult skills takes a ton of practice.

So, to demonstrate that you understand the others feelings and thoughts you might say, “You were mad cuz I took your xBox away.  And, because I did it without talking to you and seeing if I really understood why you didn’t do what we agreed you would do.  And you are frustrated that I’m angry with you again, because you feel you have a right to be pissed off and feel like I should leave you alone and not force you to explain everything…And I get it!  If it were my dad doing what I did, I’d be mad and frustrated, too.  I hear you.”  (An important DON’T here. Don’t get into your intentions and how well-meaning they were. They don’t matter, or can be explained later. See their point of view.  It doesn’t deny yours. It’s just legitimate in its own right.)

[If you want a business example, substitute any one of a hundred things a boss – every bit like a parent – might have done, e.g., “you took the project back without explaining why,” “you had someone come and talk to me about something you think I did without asking me if I did it,” or “you reached out to my customer without letting me know you were going to and made me look incompetent in her eyes.”  To make it real, think of course, of something not that a boss did to you, but what you did as a boss.  (BTW, I’ve done all three of those examples above and many more.)]

7A.  Wait. Let it sink in for both of you — that you’ve really listened, non-defensively. That you have accepted they have a point of view.

7B.  Ask, “Have I understood what you’re saying to me?”  If the answer is “no” – whether verbal or non-verbal – listen some more.

Two possibilities exist at this crossroads.  Either, you have resolved the conflict, because you understand and can do things better.  Or, perhaps more likely:

You are still holding on to something and need to have your point of view understood.  In which case, you should feel really good about asking at this point:  Would you be willing to hear my point of view, so we can both understand each other and resolve to make things better?  It’s that simple. You do get your day in court, but it’s not a court; it’s a process of building reality together.

I am starving for engagement on this topic!  Am I missing something?  (Am I just getting too long-winded that few are writing back??)  Is there a point you disagree with? I mean inside the “argument” I have laid out.  I want to take up other types of conflict that David and Mark John and T Grier’s comments have touched upon.  They have raised issues of conflict where there is a great power imbalance, for instance, and those are real and more complicated forms of conflict.

But do you do see the value in this approach to interpersonal conflict at work and home? Will you try this? Can you dance to it?  I appreciated Ken’s reflective comment two weeks ago and would love to hear yours, as you…

Lead with your best self!

  • My spouse & I learned this listening/hearing technique from Betsy, our grief counselor when our son died. It saved our marriage. When I remember to use it, it works wonderfully. You have to mean to listen.

  • Dan, this is timely for me. I am in the midst of so many interpersonal conflicts, rising out of the normal ebb and flow of leadership, organizational strains, and personal issues ( I think it might be male mid life crisis). Thank you for this. I will slow down and listen, wait to respond to what is being said, not what I am hearing. And anticipate that there are no deal killers on the table.

  • In trying to understand conflict some years ago, I came upon the idea that
    Conflict is the ultimate proof that a relationship exists;
    so when there is a conflict work to improve the relationship.

  • Is it conflict if you just don’t like or respect someone? Would these concepts work on someone I don’t like or respect?

    • Mary, yes, it’s “conflict” when you “just don’t like or respect someone.” Or more accurately, conflict arises. For example, I resist the ideas at a meeting of someone I don’t respect or like. And, if my supposition about mutuality is right, they likely resist mine, as well. Conflict (and “dislike” or “disrespect”) usually causes an instinctive Fight/Flight reaction. When that happens, I lose the value of their contribution, their ideas, their collaboration.
      This series is about ENGAGEMENT as a constructive adult alternative to fight, flight, so as to increase learning and cooperative action.

  • Us counselors call parts of this “Motivational Interviewing” which will offer much more insight and resolve to any conflicting communication exchange. To see what others have commented above, it is possible to do this even if you rather dislike the other party. Because when we engage in active listening and reflection, we are showing that we care about the engagement, but can release ourselves from having responsibility in the other’s outcome or get sucked into the drama that often tags along with conflict. We are being true to ourselves by focusing on our contribution to the interaction. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings; nor does it discount our feelings, but it causes us to focus on the interaction. Very helpful when there is “contemplation” to where the person has mixed feelings about a subject/topic. And, by setting an example of focusing on the engagement together, we can reduce the resistance and get to a common goal. Have a great day, everyone!

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