Our culture values managers, supervisors and leaders for your expertise and, in many ways, your certainty about the right thing to do to address day-to-day problems and situations. And rightly so.
Yet the best conflict engagement is an act of not knowing, of not being an expert in the content of the problem. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few,” reminds Suzuki Roshi in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (affiliate link).
So how do you reconcile the expectation of expertise in most workplace situations and the wise choice not to be in others? Here’s a way: Be a process expert in conflict and a content expert when managing.
Be an expert in the processes and habits of good conflict resolution. Let go of what you think you know about the content of a conflict (and your judgments about those involved) when trying to mediate, as those create inadvertent blinders for you.
Keep this in mind: When you’re stuck in a conflict or when mediating others’ disagreement, the simple habit of reminding yourself to seek understanding will help you gain access to the tools and skills you need most in that moment. When you seek to understand, you make available to yourself important organizational conflict management tools and skills like these: Abundant curiosity, good questions, paraphrasing and reflective listening, uncovering interests, framing and reframing.