Practice #5: Resolving Conflicts - Step 1
Solving Conflict - Step 1: Separate The People From The Problem
When confronted with conflict, people often identify personally with the problem, a stance that leads to a "me against you" perspective. When that happens, responses tend to be viewed as personal attacks instead of honest suggestions. By separating the people from the problem, both parties are able to address the issue more clearly. This separation also prevents damage to the relationship caused when strong emotions make honest suggestions seem like personal attacks.
Emotions are natural in conflict situations but can sometimes cloud our judgment if they are not recognized and acknowledged. Strong emotions make the negotiations more difficult. However, completely ignoring emotions is not advisable either. How you handle the emotions is very important. One way of working side-by-side is to think and act in terms of perception and emotion.
The following approaches can help you use your perception to:
- Put yourself in their shoes and understand their feelings.
- Resist deducing their intentions from your fears.
- Discuss each other's perception about the problem without blaming each other for it.
- Get all voices involved in the process of determining a solution.
- Make mutually beneficial proposals that would be appealing to both sides. Note that solutions must be in line with the values held by people on both sides.
If not handled properly, emotions can bring negotiations to a quick end! The following approaches can help you better understand the emotions that might be present in your negotiations:
- Recognize your and others' emotions. Are you feeling nervous or angry? Are they? Is everyone looking for revenge?
- Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate. Making feelings known will make negotiations less reactive and more proactive and
will allow you to work on the problem.
- Acknowledge the others' right to an emotion without providing your emotional response. This allows everyone to let off steam, which creates an environment more conducive
to "level-headed" conversations.
- Provide expressions of understanding or an apology to help reduce strong emotions. Even if you did not cause the emotion, an apology acknowledges what someone else is experiencing and helps everyone move beyond the emotion.
How Elizabeth is able to separate the people from the problem:
As Elizabeth thinks about the problem, she realizes that she needs to separate her feelings about the issue from Steve and the center itself. She puts herself in his shoes, and realizes that he may just be busy or may not realize how she is feeling. During her discussion with him, Elizabeth makes sure to talk about her feelings without assigning blame to anyone. She talks directly to him without making statements about his work.
Think about the last time you were in a group that reached an impasse. How could your
thinking processes and behaviors have been improved?
Two of the items you should have included in your response to the question were perception and emotion. Remember to try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person (perception). And, recognize how you're feeling and how the other people might be feeling (emotion).