I had the good fortune to sit down with Mark Gerzon recently.  Mark created and has written multiple books about conflict and leadership as well as facilitated many peacemaking initiatives.

Gordon White and I interviewed him for our onconflict podcast. You can hear the episode when it is released on February 28.  In the meantime, I want to highlight for you a technique Mark talked about on our show and teaches and uses in his conflict work.

Mark offers an analogy of conflict being like finding the right temperature to cook a meal.  If the meal is cooked with too much heat, you burn the meal.  If there is not enough heat, the food is raw and uneatable (unless it’s a raw food diet, of course!).

Mark applies this analogy to conflict situations in his work.  He can see conflict with this temperature lens and uses the appropriate tools depending on the temperature presenting in the conflict.

Let’s take a conflict that is too hot. That looks different in different contexts, but essentially it is when conflict or differences are in full flower.  It might be that people are shouting at each other, or using language that increases tension. It might be that the difference is visible, and more conflict may soon ensue: a peace protestor is standing in front of a tank.  Intense emotions of anger, or sadness or fear are present.

In these circumstances, it makes sense to take “cooling down” actions.  Take a break.  Disengage.  Connect with your own still, small voice inside to calm and ground in spirit.  These are all cooling down actions.

As you think of conflicts in your own life, what are some cooling down techniques you use that work?

What about a conflict that is too cold?  These are the circumstances where there are differences but they are not being discussed.

If not dealt with, differences can look like a quiet sense of dissatisfaction or increasing feelings of resentment.  They could take on a more overt display like muttering sarcastic remarks under one’s breath, rolling one’s eyes, walking away from the conversation, not talking at all. In these contexts, intense emotions don’t appear to be present; it might seem like there are no emotions at all attached to the person or issue.

I find personally it’s easy to let sleeping dogs lie.  It is easy to not bring up something I might have feelings about.  When we were off air in the podcast, Mark and I spoke about a situation in my life where the conflict was cold.  I wasn’t talking about what was really in my heart and how the actions of the others were impacting me.  Our exchange highlighted for me that it was going to take courage for me to overcome my fear of using my voice and truly speaking to the conflict.

So, here are a few more specific ideas on how to heat up conflict from this personal insight:

Heating up conflict requires courage to overcome the fears we have about speaking from the heart.  Will my heart be hurt?  Will I be overcome?  Will I freeze and not know what to say?

One tool that can help us find courage is one I teach in my workshops and call the risk/benefit assessment.  In this exercise, people are asked a series of questions in four quadrants:

  • Risks to you for bringing up the conversation
  • Benefits to you for bringing up the conversation
  • Risks to the other (if you were to bring up the conversation)
  • Benefits to the other (if you were to bring up the conversation)

Through this exercise, people often discover a goal or benefit or mutual purpose that becomes their north star in the conversation.

This higher vision or cause can help us overcome our fears enough to speak from the heart. Your sharing can then heat up a conversation.  Sharing the impact for you in any context is potent.  As is asking a question of the other person to invite them to reveal what might be a difference they see.  It often is more powerful to start with your own self-disclosure, however – to risk being vulnerable first.

As you think of conflicts in your own life, what are some heating up techniques you use that work?

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” … Theodore Roosevelt