I admit, I don't really want to minimize conflict. I know conflicts and disagreements are going to happen. You know what I really want? I want to minimize those all-too-familiar anxious feelings that arise in me when I am in conflict. Here's what has helped:
In the midst of disagreement, it is possible to create an environment where blame, shame, guilt and fear are minimized. If we can do this, we can ensure the following:
- Flow of conversation is maintained
- Defensiveness is minimized (yours and theirs)
- Power is shared
- Hearts and minds stay open
- Everyone ‘feels’ heard
- Others have a desire to contribute to our needs
- Our needs are met, at less cost
- We attend to the work or what we want to accomplish
How can we do this? We can do this by deepening our awareness. What is blocking you from creating an agreement with those who don’t see your point of view? It is time to raise your consciousness about how your internal conversations are leading you to view things in a certain way. How do you communicate in a way that fosters agreement, understanding, listening, honest expression and values differing views?
In the face of ANY disagreement, you can deepen your awareness by turning your attention to:
- Inner coach
- Empathic, conscious communication
As mentioned above, I usually get some push-back here. I hear things like:
“What does my inner coach have to do with solving this conflict?”
“Empathy? They just don’t listen! I just want to be heard!”
Let’s take a closer look at each of these points and let our deeper awareness begin:
1. The Intention
There is an intention behind everything we choose to do or not do, say or not say. Let’s look at an example.
In a recent coaching circle, a participant shared his frustrations about a colleague. He decided he wanted to confront her about the way she spoke to him in their last meeting. In speaking with this colleague, his intention might be to 'make her feel guilty' or to 'teach' her how she ‘should’ speak to him. If he becomes aware of his intention, he could then choose to follow through on it or choose not to. And, if he does decide to speak with his colleague, he might choose to do so because he wants to contribute to a working space where they ‘listen to understand’ each other and support each other, even when they may disagree.
- Are you aware of the intention behind your actions or inactions?
- Are your thoughts helpful or a hinderance? (causing you to sabotage the possibility of evolving the conflict) or (finding ways to resolve the conflict)?
2. Watch your Inner-Coach
We are all creatures of habit. By studying my own thoughts, I have come to realize that we are also creatures of interpretation. In a disagreement, have you ever thought, “I know exactly what they are going to say” or “they are so close-minded!”? Of course you have. We have all had the similar thoughts.
Our behaviour and our attitudes are shaped by our mental maps, which are the images, assumptions and stories that we have of ourselves, other people and organizations.
It is the differences in mental maps that can explain why two people can observe the same event and describe their experience differently. Our mental maps cause us to pay attention to different details and interpret them to suit our mental filters.
When tension and frustrations are high, we often communicate from our inner critic, because of the mental maps we are attuned to, causing harmful self-talk or harmful thoughts about others. These harmful thoughts cause us to:
1) Disconnect from our natural, curious, open manner (close our mind)
2) Become preoccupied with defending our position and our beliefs (react)
3) Attack with ‘power-over’ language showing how right we are and how wrong another is for thinking in their way (project)
When we withdraw, we move further away from what we desire, which is to create an openness and a connection to those with whom we disagree. The thought of wanting a connection to those with whom we disagree may seem bizarre. But just give it some thought. If your inner critic is busy criticizing others when they don’t agree with your point of view, how can you communicate in a way that has a positive influence?
It was a client who had hired me to work with one of his employees. Although we didn’t say it out loud, we disagreed about how to bring out the best in people. He thought, “bad performers SHOULD be performance managed,” while I wanted him to understand a different way of fostering a culture where good performance can thrive.
Similarly, another client expressed the same frustrations with her eldest son. She described him as “lazy and untrustworthy and he doesn’t follow through.”
Conscious communication has also been called “change conversations.” Conscious communication calls on us to examine our beliefs of how we view others and how we view ourselves and draws upon the belief that it is our human nature to want to do good and be treated well. Brain science says the same. We are social beings, striving to belong, whether we are introverted or extroverted. But what gets in the way of us expressing ourselves from a place of doing good? What causes us to choose words or actions that cause harm, rather than create health? In other words, what stops us from communicating in a way that makes life more wonderful for ourselves and others?
In our organizations (work teams, families), our daily lives are met with a cocktail of joy, fun, excitement and varying degrees of pressures, uncertainties, power plays, conflicts, injustices, misunderstandings and miscommunications. With the latter causing internal pain that can go unrecognized until it shows up as withdrawal, disengagement, unproductive behaviors, resentment or a dip in our mojo. With conscious communication, we can minimize the internal pain.