Everything is never as it seems – these are the lyrics of a song I heard on the radio a while back (Fireflies – Owl City) and thought it depicted the real crux of conflict resolution.
Think of a time a new co-worker started with your company and you instantly judged them based on their appearance or demeanor. Don’t worry this is human nature, first impressions and all that. If we never took the time to get to know our new co-worker we would be left with our first impressions only. And we all have experience to show how wrong those first judgments can be. The first step in changing perspectives or resolving conflict is to shift from judgment to curiosity.
Judgment leads us nowhere and prevents both understanding and resolution. Curiosity helps us realize that every person has their own story, whether in life or in a conflict. When we are in conflict, the ability to hear and understand this story and realize the intention behind their actions can lead us to resolution.
So how do we get to their story? It takes time and some intense listening. Just like getting to know a new co-worker, we need to ask a lot of questions. All questions do not stimulate the same response. Often we ask questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to lead the conversation and prove we are right. Think of lawyers in a courtroom. Being that adversarial will not bring resolution to any conflict. Open questions serve us much better. Questions that begin with who, what, when, where, how and why help to develop the story. Just a note – be careful with ‘why’ questions as they often lead people to feel they must defend their position.
A question such as “Are you finished that report like we discussed?”, will be guaranteed to provoke a defensive response regardless of the answer. Opening up the question to “How is the report going?” will enable the other person to relate their story. We also need to share our story to build understanding on both sides. “The CEO is using the report as part of a proposal for a new opportunity, so I want to ensure she has it on time.”
Peeling Back the Layers
The facts to every story are important, but behind the facts are emotions, thoughts and feelings. Until we understand these we cannot know the whole story and everything is never as it seems. When we are genuinely curious and trust our instincts, we can dig deeper into what is behind the positions that people put forward. When confronted by someone ask them what is important to them and why. Seek to understand what is motivating them and why. Reveal what is motivating you and why. “What’s important to you about…” or “How does that affect you” will get you somewhere deeper and a lot closer to resolving that conflict.