After studying couples and how they fight for over 40 years, John and Julie Gottman can predict with over 90% accuracy that how a conversation starts is how it will end.

When I first heard that piece of research, it literally changed how I taught my classes on conflict resolution and confirmed an abiding practice as a mediator.  I start my mediations now with asking disputants what their “best intention” is in having the conversation.  I give the parties an opportunity to speak to what positive motivations they may have for the conversation or relationship.

Starting out with a collaborative tone is one of those actions in conflict that can seem obvious, but is oh so hard to do!  Most of us, when we are upset by something, want to start the conversation with our upset feelings.  We want to “cut to the chase” or “get it over with.”

However, we are all, for the most part, fairly conflict-averse, so any hint of scary conflict coming our way, we shut down.   So, starting a conversation by stating how upset you are, is bound to backfire and trigger defensiveness from the other person, even before you get started!

Suggesting you start with a tone of appreciation or with your best intention, is not an attempt to avoid the conflict, be dishonest or manipulative. 

It is asking you to be “soft on the person and hard on the problem.” Adhering to that principle will take you far.  You cannot influence your foe (if you think of the other person that way) if you’ve alienated them.

So the next time you want to start a conflict conversation, or are faced with one, can you remember tonal harmony?  If you can make harmonious music at the start of your conversation, you increase the chances that you’ll end on a positive note as well.

“Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that that person understands you.”  … John Gottman