Better conflict resolution skills alone will only get you so far. How you use them is what makes the real difference. One of my mediation grad students had an epiphany about this in the midst of an argument with her husband.
My Interpersonal Conflict Resolution class was just getting underway when Kate, very animated as she walked in, raised her hand. “Can I tell a quick story about something that happened to me this morning? I promise it’s relevant to class.”
Kate had an argument with her husband that morning, just before she left for campus. It was about something minor. Kate decided it was an excellent opportunity to put to use the fantastic conflict resolution and mediation skills she was learning.
“I did all the right things,” Kate went on. “I reflected back. I asked good questions. I uncovered interests. I reframed. I was so proud of myself!”
But there was a little problem. The argument was getting worse.
“The more I did my mediator stuff, the angrier my husband seemed to get. At first I thought he was just reacting pettily because it was clear that I was handling myself so much better than he was handling himself.”
But it turns out that wasn’t it at all.
This was the reason:
“I was putting my good skills to use for evil purpose!” Kate told us. The classroom erupted in laughter.
“I was using my good conflict resolution skills, but I was using them with the intent to make him see it my way. And I was doing it pretty successfully. The more I backed my husband into the corner, the harder he worked to get out, the angrier he got, and the more downhill the conversation went.”
It was one of those proverbial lightbulb moments. “That’s when I finally really got it. Good conflict resolution skills become great conflict resolution skills when they’re used with the right intention.”