I’ve heard the following five observations repeatedly during my two decades as a mediator, coach, and conflict resolution teacher. All five miss the mark in important ways and we should stop repeating them.
Examining mental models
Mental models are the explanations and pictures we construct in our heads to make sense of the world. The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates how our mental models influence our conclusions -- the man touching the tail thinks an elephant is like a rope, while the man touching the tusk believes an elephant is more like a spear, and the man touching the trunk concludes an elephant is like a snake. We disagree better when we can detect our blind spots, examine our assumptions, and interpret our experience through multiple lenses.
In moments of conflict, seeing someone whole is both a noble and a difficult thing. It is a worthwhile pursuit whether we’re part of the conflict or we’re helping them sort it out — because that’s where possibility lives.
When I’m mediating, coaching, or training, there are moments I want to illustrate why resistance builds up. There are moments I want to help someone understand in a quick and visceral way that pushing their agenda relentlessly is contributing to getting things good and stuck. In those moments, I often turn to one of my […]
Certainty and disinterest are conflict’s allies. Conflict resolution has allies, too. Among them are curiosity and genuine interest in the other person’s view of the world. It’s very difficult to make yourself curious in the midst of stress and difficulty if you do not also have this habit when you are relaxed. If you want […]
When we’re in conflict with someone, even those we love, work with, or live with, the view we have of them narrows as we focus more on the conflict and less on the whole person. The following exercise is a quick, interactive way to demonstrate this idea.
Most of us have the habit of solving problems and trying to influence others by starting from where we are. Here’s a story illustrating the creativity that can get unlocked when we start from where they are. “Excuse me,” said the gentleman. “Do you have a dollar for four quarters?” Bestselling author, entrepreneur, and thinker […]
“I understand her perspective but she doesn’t even bother to try to understand mine.” Every mediator or manager has heard a version of this while trying to sort out a conflict. Sometimes a version even wanders beguilingly through my own mind. Maybe one has wandered once or twice through your mind, too.
It’s so easy to see the ways that they don’t understand us. And so much harder to see the ways we fail our own standard. What we need is a sort of Turing Test for conflict, an unbiased mechanism to check our assumptions and our understanding.
I wish I could say I thought of it, but the economists got to a version of the idea first.
How do you rebuild trust after a conflict? Start with a smaller question.
Before you label someone “high conflict,” be very aware of all the ways this label can be a mistake. And escalate conflict further. Let’s be very cautious about gratuitously equating someone who disagrees strongly, emotionally, and even frequently, with having a personality disorder. “He’s such a high conflict personality that I’m scared to disagree with […]
A dear friend had a stroke last week and she has lost the ability to speak, at least for now. To all appearances she looks almost fully recovered, yet her communication has been a mix of pain, frustration, and the occasional triumph.
As her friends form a circle of love around her, one of us next to her hospital bed every morning, afternoon, and evening to support her and try to interpret her gestures, scribbles, and diagrams, we hear again and again from the her medical team that the work ahead of her is to re-form the links, the neural pathways, that were damaged by the stroke.
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What if we stopped expecting so much of ourselves (and others) when we’re frustrated, and started by assuming the first draft of our conversation is going to stink? Ring the bells that still can ringForget your perfect offeringThere is a crack in everythingThat’s how the light gets in – Leonard Cohen, Anthem What if we […]
What a difference a single word makes. When we’re in conflict, our own egos and the level of hope (or hopelessness) we feel can become obstacles to finding resolution. Sometimes, a simple reframing of a key question can help us overcome these obstacles. I was reminded of this while listening to a public radio interview […]
Pete Seeger was so right.
Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean something fundamental has shifted in your business or personal relationship. It’s possible the relationship is as sound and strong as it ever was. It’s just hard to see that when the conflict is crowding out your wider view.
I was reminded of this recently in an experience with a certain company whose services I use to manage a small digital aspect of my conflict resolution business.
Your conflict story is the story you tell yourself about what happened. The more you rehearse the story by telling others all about it and by replaying it in your own mind, the more it becomes “stuck” and the more it feels like the story of the conflict. But it’s really just something you constructed as you tried to understand it all.
When a conflict looms large it can begin to feel like the only thing left between you. That’s an error of perception, of course. You are not one-dimensional figures with a single agenda; neither of you has become that. The conflict has lured you into a false way of viewing the other person, as though there is nothing else important about them anymore. Don’t let it.
Empathy researcher and bestselling author Brené Brown has put together a good primer on the important differences between empathy and sympathy:
Which one started it? I heard someone ask. I think her dog started it, replied the other, pointing to the chagrined-looking spaniel. A third person said, Well, you never know, the other dog might have sent a signal the spaniel didn’t like.
On the discussion went as the bystanders tried to figure out which dog had started the 10-second ruckus we’d all just witnessed at dog agility practice. I was there to run my dogs, both of whom compete with me in dog agility trials.
We humans seem to care a great deal about who started it.