The way we disagree has an impact on the quality of our work, the resilience of our relationships, and our ability to influence others. When we disagree better, we change the conversation. And when we change the conversation, we change lives.
If you’re new here, this short manifesto will show you what I hold close in my conflict resolution work and what conflict resolution premises I reject.
A messenger, not a pathology
Let’s stop pathologizing conflict and anger. Conflict is not an inability to get along or be a team player. Anger is not a personality flaw. Conflict and anger are messengers. They are trying tell us something and they’ll escalate until we listen. Best to pause and listen, then. When we learn to notice the signal and translate the message — theirs or our own — we disagree better.
An equal human, not a difficult one
Conflict has a way of making us home in on what’s wrong with them. Psychologist Jeffrey Kottler reminds us, “Every person you fight with has many other people in his life with whom he gets along quite well.” To disagree better, we have to resist the superficial, too-easy diagnosis, “difficult person,” and diligently look for the equal human, flawed and perfect, just like us. It is there.
You cannot look at a person who seems difficult to you without also looking at yourself.
– Jeffrey Kottler
Buffering, not preventing
Robust disagreement is a hallmark of creative, effective workplace teams. It’s not discord itself that determines if the relationship survives and thrives — it’s what we do when we disagree. Couples can have big fights and frequent conflict yet still have healthy, fulfilling, and lasting relationships. We have it in our hands to learn and use approaches that buffer our important relationships from the negative effects of conflict.
Happiness comes from between.
– Jonathan Haidt, psychologist
The “between,” not only agreements
In ongoing personal and business relationships, reaching agreement shouldn’t be our only goal. Agreements matter, yet they’re best seen as way stations on our way to taking care of “the between,” the air between us and them. It’s the between that will sustain the relationship and set the stage for what happens in future disagreement and conflict. Haidt said, “Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right.” To disagree better in ongoing relationships at work and home, the space between needs as much attention as argument-ending agreements.
We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.
– Anäis Nin
Our story, not the story
When we get into a conflict with someone, it’s natural to replay our experience of the conflict, both in our minds and as we tell others about it. Over time, this replay can begin to feel like The Truth About What Happened. But it isn’t. It’s something we constructed in our minds. We built it based on what stood out to us, who we are, what we believe, what we value and de-value. To disagree better, we need to doubt our own conflict story and build a new one.
Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
© 2021 Tammy Lenski. All rights reserved.