My job as a conflict resolver, puts me in the unique position of hearing “both sides” of a conflict.  In fact, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t endeavour to understand and connect with the different perspectives in conflict.

Recently, I have noticed my own tolerance for differences has been increasing.  It might be because of the recent US elections, which has stretched me and challenged me to look at both sides. But, I recently had a strange kaleidescope moment speaking with my daughter and her friend.  Both were wearing fleece pjs in the evening.  As we were all talking, I started to notice both the differences and the similarities in their pjs.  Both their pjs were made of fleece but they were of different colours.  Then I noticed my daughter’s friend had owls on her pjs whereas my daughter’s pjs had a dog print.  I voiced this observation and my daughter’s friend said: “Well, they are both animals!”

That momentary exchange made me think of how we tend to look at similarities and differences in conflict.  When we are focused on agreeing, on what we have in common, we seem to relax, come together and believe we are the same.  We are all animals.  However, when we notice the differences while in conflict – that there are dogs and owls – we can quickly deteriorate into your difference is bad and you are bad.

It seems to me, we are all a never-ending combination of similarities and differences and depending on how we look at it, even those differences can be seen as similar.

In conflict, the impulse is to downplay the differences because of this risk.  However, we really need to acknowledge, accept and examine those differences.  How can we become more comfortable with holding that other as having some aspects that are different and some that are the same? That difference does not make you bad or wrong or fundamentally different.  It’s just a difference to be explored, engaged with and included.

As you think about anyone you might have a “difference” with  – are you making the person wrong for being different?  How can you get curious about that difference?  How can use your “giraffe ears”?  For more info on giraffe ears, check out my new book co-authored with therapist Judy Zehr.
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence”  … J. Krishnamurti