Who doesn’t want to have better communication?  The problem is, when we get into an argument with someone, we usually don’t really feel like putting in the effort to resolve it.  We would rather swim across a lake full of alligators.  But that mindset is really our brains tricking us.  When we are stressed from conflict, our brains cause our thinking to become more rigid, blaming and black and white.  We also become not the best versions of ourselves.  This happens to the other person too.

That’s not a great level of consciousness to problem-solve from.  Someone has to shift the direction of the situation. 

Why not you?  As a workplace conflict resolver, coach & trainer, many people have asked me why it should be them to be the one to do something differently.  My answer is always: because it is you who want things to be different! 

If you can accept responsibility for finding a way to do things differently for a different result, you are half way there, because you then have the power again.  If you are waiting for someone else to change, might as well go jump in that lake.

If you can believe that it only takes one person to stop the fighting, and that person can be you, then you become curious about what you can do.  What will start to bring you both back to a place where you can reconnect and get on with understanding each other and finding some innovative solutions?

What I’m about to say sounds so simple, but it’s not easy.  The most powerful thing you can do is to listen to the other person. There is a hitch however. You don’t want to repeat back the blaming words or rigid thinking that might be coming out of their mouths. So, what are you repeating back?

It helps to reflect back two things: the person’s feelings and their needs.

Let’s start with feelings.  A feeling is not: “You feel I’m stupid.”  A feeling is some variation of sad, mad, glad or afraid.  In conflict, the feelings we pay the most attention to reflecting back are sad, mad and afraid.  You can ask: “Are you feeling frustrated with how I’ve been handling that situation?”

What about needs?  David Rock, a neuroscience journalist, identified five fundamental human needs we all share.  He named them with the acronym SCARF for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.  Status is the desire to be seen as someone who is valuable, has worth and can make a contribution. Certainty is the need to have things be known or predictable.  Autonomy is a need for independence.  Relatedness is a need for connection.  Fairness is fairly self-evident!  These are the underlying motivators which drive our behaviours.

When we can reflect back someone’s feelings and guess at what might be their underlying need, we bring the conversation more “vertical.”  We get a chance to go deeper and understand each other more.  Bringing more understanding to conflict creates the opportunity for more possibilities to be unleashed for how to problem-solve. In this way, conflict can also become the gateway to creativity and innovation as well as better, more meaningful relationships.

It all starts with you believing that it can take just one person to stop the fighting – and that one person is you!

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” … Jane Goodall

* Note: This article was first published for the Scrivener magazine for their Winter 2020 edition.