From Adversary to Partner: 5 Steps for Communicating Effectively During Conflict
· Conflict is Negative
· Conflict = Contest
· It takes both sides to resolve a conflict
These three conflict myths from The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum, define the difficulty of dealing with workplace conflict — or any conflict. Whether or not you’re aware of them, they underlie every conflict from the interpersonal to the international. They lead us to avoid, retaliate, or to win at all costs.
Think of a conflict in which you’re currently involved. As you bring it into your awareness, what do you notice? Negative feelings? Win/Lose attitude? Are you thinking, If only they would change?
If you answered yes, then you’re like most people on the planet. All of us learned our conflict behaviors by watching parents, teachers, and others who had a formative influence on our lives. And that’s how we incorporated the myths into our conflict operating system.
From Adversary to Partner
The fastest way to transform the myths and the experience we call conflict is to move from a win/lose stance to a partnering one. Communicating effectively during conflict is easy when you think of yourself as a partner instead of an opponent and seek ways to resolve rather than win or retreat.
In my programs on conflict and difficult conversations, students practice the partnering stance verbally and physically. Because our reactions are hardwired, intellectually understanding that a partnering stance would be useful doesn’t reach the physical habits of tightening and reacting that we’ve developed over the years. So participants learn to re-pattern physical habits by moving physically from an adversarial, face-to-face stance into a side-by-side partnering one. It’s compelling to feel the shift and the freedom that comes with it.
5 Steps for Communicating Effectively During Conflict
Now, let’s return to your conflict. Here are five steps for making this transformation in yourself:
#1) Stop and Center
Center yourself in whatever way you know how. Suggestions:
· Breathe. You’ve probably stopped. Open your throat and let the air rush in.
· Smile to yourself.
· See yourself in the future with the conflict resolved.
· Imagine telling the happy ending to this story three years from now.
What do you really want — for yourself, your conflict partner, the relationship? If you become emotional, return to your purpose and you’ll also return to center. Why are you holding this conversation? What would be a positive outcome?
Curiosity is an attitude choice and a primary myth transformer. As attitude choice, it keeps you cool and calm. Curiosity fosters empathy. You’ll find yourself interested, fascinated, and willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the resolution track. It’s how you move from opponent to partner.
Start by asking your conflict partner open, honest questions to which you do not know the answer.
· How are we going to do this?
· What do you think is the answer?
· Would you like to find a way to make this work?
· Why do you think we keep butting heads? I’d really like to find another way.
The benefits are endless. Curiosity will change your life.
Don’t assume your partner knows what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling. Let them see what’s important to you, how their behavior is impacting your work, your life, and the relationship. Start sentences with words like:
· I’m not sure it’s evident, but when you ……….., the impact is …………..
· I’m concerned about …….
· I was surprised when …….., because ……..
· Would you be interested in hearing what this looks like from my point of view?
When you begin repeating yourself or when it’s clear you’ve both had a chance to express your views, start to draft possible solutions. Invite your partner to offer possibilities. Find something you agree with and build on it. If follow up is required, who will do it, and when? Create a plan.
If you follow these steps, your difficult conversations will become easier. You will rewire old conflict habits, adversarial relationships will become partnering ones, and, you’ll begin to transform those myths. You’ll find:
· Conflict Just Is
· Conflict = Opportunity
· It only takes one to begin the process of resolving a conflict.
Many thanks to Thomas Crum for his contribution to this post. His foundational writing, leadership and thought-provoking models in the field of conflict resolution and peak performance have guided me and many others toward a life of power & presence.