following strategies are the most common. Which one do you tend to fall back on?
I'm here to say that none of these four strategies are effective if you want to have a difficult conversation to resolve conflicts of expectation, styles, or values, which are the three major kinds of conflict. But one of these conflicts stands out as the most difficult to resolve.
In a conflict of styles, it is often the case that people can come to appreciate their differences and learn from each other. In a conflict of expectations, there can be clarification and renegotiation. However, in a conflict of values, differences run deeper. This type of conflict is the hardest to resolve since both parties stand for their values and believe they are right. Values are deeply held. They are the ideals and beliefs we live by, and when opposed, they can evoke an extreme emotional response. For example, integrity is a value many people have to such a degree that being lied to, even in a small way, can erode trust and end a relationship. Conflicts of values can arise around money, risk, freedom, justice, equality, respect, and anything political or religious.
So now we are back to the original question: How do you stand in the tension of conflict if you want to make a difference? The answer? Stand in the tension of conflict by understanding that if you want someone to listen to you, you must listen to them.
This strategy relies on defeating the problem, not each other. You do this by separating the problem from the conflict and listening for mutual interests. Some issues I've heard about lately are crime, homelessness, women's rights, access to health care, safety, and justice. There is agreement on the problem. The conflict occurs on how best to solve the problem. So instead of arguing about who's right, start a conversation by looking into the issue itself.
We need more practice investigating the problem before we can resolve these conflicts on a personal, national or global level. I asked the following question of a group recently, "How many of you have a conflict of values with people you care about?" 75% of the group raised their hands. It's not just with "others"; conflicts happen in families and with friends. So how do you have a conversation and even not avoid the famous two – politics and religion? And come out of those conversations more thoughtful and more informed.
I continue to hear people talking about the impact politics still have on the family dynamic. How friendships have been lost, or family members are not speaking to each other or dreading the inevitable conflict that arises when conversations shift hotly to blame and rhetorical debate.
Instead of using arguments that don’t change anything, use this 3-point strategy to stand in the tension of conflict and strengthen the relationship so eventually a resolution can be found.
1. Curiosity: The first step towards curiosity is to stop the fight response. You'll know when curiosity is more important than fighting to win when you're more willing to listen and be curious rather than attached to your point of view. Don't worry; curiosity won't kill the cat. It only kills attachment to being right and leaves an opening for dialog.
2. Connection: Attempt to understand where they are coming from by asking questions like, "How did you come to this perspective?" with love. Connecting allows you to step to someone's side and see a possibility in them when you stop to find out their purpose and what matters most to them. It also brings you to this present moment which is the only time you can make something happen. Stepping to a person's side doesn't mean that you're changing your views or beliefs. Instead, you are choosing to genuinely be with the individual or idea and looking at it from their side. From this place of connection, something new can emerge.
3. Commitment to Finding Mutual Interests: Do you agree on the problem? There's a famous example of Reagan and Gorbachev discussing creating a world that worked for their children and grandchildren. In researching this event, I found this statement, "First, Reagan relaxed his aggressive rhetoric toward the Soviet Union after Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Soviet Politburo in 1985 and took on a position of negotiating." Reagan was still a capitalist, and Gorbachev was still a communist, but they found a mutual interest in not blowing up the world. We're still working on an enduring strategy, but it's worth remembering that mutual interests can be found even when values collide.
Let's stop shaking our heads and thinking conflict shouldn't happen. It's like an eleventh commandment; there shall be breakdowns! Instead, think about how you might start a dialog with someone with a conflict of values and how you can "relax your aggressive rhetoric," whether internal or external, to ask questions and find out what's important and what matters most. Can you do it just for the length of a conversation? I know it's hard, and I think you can, and I think we can!
What’s your strategy to stand in the tension of conflict?
Let me know and I’ll add it!
Paulette Sun Davis