Conflict is part of life. Negative conflict leads to pain, positive conflict to creative solutions. Most of us are either wired to avoid conflict or dive into it aggressively. What if there were another way? A way to have greeted empathy and understanding emerge out of the conflict? Creative conflict is the way to take different perspectives, even apparently opposing ones, and generate something new!
Negative conflict is driven by fear and anger for the most part. The real mission here is transforming those feeling to a positive. Anger and fear are destructive by nature and yet they are necessary and even helpful feelings. They tell us that something is out of alignment either within ourselves or in our world. Anger is meant to activate us but not necessarily to dominate our mind.
The first step when feeling activated is to own our feeling, get that we are probably not in a life-threatening situation, and take a deep breath. Our inclination when activated is going to be to blame and defend- we will be all about getting our own way. The next step is to own that about ourselves, our need to win or be right, and redefine those urges.
The key is letting go of our fear and anger and move to empathy. We cannot truly be “right” or “win” without fully understanding the other person. This shift is made by saying something like “I’m a little triggered here, and I value your opinion so much more than I this, just give me a second”. Alternatively, if we went a little further down the anger road, it might be “I’m really sorry I got so angry, and I value your opinion more than that…” Taking responsibility out loud both sends a message to the other person and our unconscious mind.
Once we have reset through taking responsibility, we are ready to set our own point of view aside temporarily and really see to understand the other person and where they are coming from. Show authentic interest in the other person’s point of view will almost always short circuit a negative exchange. Do this through committed listening. Listen to what the other person is saying and repeat back at least one feeling and fact about what they are saying in the form of “it sounds like…” “ What I hear you saying is…” “It seems like….”. Listen for a solid affirmation from them after you have done this. If they contradict your interpretation embrace it, listen again, and rephrase until they give you a rock-solid affirmation that you “get” them and what they are saying.
Once you understand their point of view, share your own in the most personally responsible way possible. Use the “I feel” X “When” Y “Because” of Z format. In real life that might look like “I feel frustrated when there is no money in the bank because we have not kept our agreements around spending”.
Take the structure and keep it as neutral as possible always putting your feelings on the front end. This is the opposite of the blame structure which goes “You spent all the money from the joint account last week, I thought we had a plan, what is wrong with you? No wonder I am angry!” This sentence structure speaks from personal responsibility. You are own that you are reacting. Speaking from personal responsibility is the first step to individual empowerment. From this place, focus on both of your interests and concerns and how these can be reached without changing the other person.
Remember we are resolving negative emotion, not ignoring it. We are working towards a positive, mutually beneficial resolution. The win/win perspective is the starting point for transforming negative conflict into positive conflict. That does not mean that you both get EXACTLY what you want, but that both people walk away with their most important values and principles fulfilled in the agreement. Most conflicts arise when individuals prioritize values differently. In other words, they share the same values but have them in a different order. Coming to a compromise about which values come first in any situation is simple. So much easier than when there are actually conflicting values.