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Conflict Resolution: Listen To The Tides Not The Waves
My name is Sari van Poelje. On the one hand, I train coaches and consultants, from beginner, to advanced, to team coaches and business coaches. I do that in Intact Academy. The other thing I do is, I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate their time to market. I do that within my company Agile Business Innovation.
We’re talking about conflicts and conflict resolution. More specifically, we talked about the ladder of dealing with conflicts in our last blog. This time I want to give some general pointers that I use when I’m dealing with conflict resolution.
One of the things that really helps is listening. That’s an open door. There are not a lot of people who can listen well. A lot of people are listening for content, instead of for the meaning underneath. My general pointer when you’re dealing with conflict is to listen with your heart. Listening is a creative force. You need to listen, not for what people say but, for how they’re saying it, and for the story underneath. In my coaching school, people often say, “how do you know? It’s like magic!”. Partly it’s technical, but partly it’s listening both with my head, my heart and my hands. What I’m listening for is the tides, not the waves. The waves distract us. If you listen to the waves in the conflict, you’ll always be distracted by the trash. You’re not listening for what are the tides in someone’s life that brings them back and forth into this conflict. At best when you listen for the patterns in someone’s life, it’s a creative force because it helps you to unfold, to expand.
The greatest enemy of learning is not ignorance, it’s thinking that you already know what’s going to happen. That’s the greatest enemy of learning. How they are behaving during the conflict tells me something about what they learned and what they haven’t learned. Thinking about the narrative underneath the conflict, tells me why they are in this conflict. It tells me something about the tides in their life. Listening as a creative force creates miracles. If you don’t listen for that, it’s going to cost you a relationship, it’s going to cost you vitality, and ultimately health. What I really, really want you to learn, even in conflict is to stay cool, listen for the tides. However, for conflict resolution, it’s not important what people are fighting about. What’s important is to listen for the patterns. How are they fighting? Why are they fighting? That’s the tides of people’s lives and create small miracles with that.
The second thing I want to say is: help people separate what matters from what’s in the way. My strong belief is every conflict contains its own resolution, if you listen well. If you are stuck in being right, then you probably won’t be able to resolve the conflict. If you’re still talking about, “I’m right, because we made a schedule to put out the trash.”. You’re going to repeat that ad nauseum. This is like a Buddhist learning; you’re going to repeat it until you have the next best life. I encourage you to solve it in this life, because as far as we know, we only have one life. If we have many lives, I’ll be very happy, because there will be many different levels of learning. Spending your life on trash, not a good thing.
How do you separate what matters from what’s in the way? I’m going to give you some pointers for that. One is to separate your position from the interests involved, explore the why instead of the what. It’s not so interesting what position of power you have, but consider what interest you have in resolving the conflict. Even if I’m right, in who puts out the trash, my interest is in not having these types of conversations in my life anymore, because it’s a waste of time. Anything in my life is replaceable, except time. My interest in resolving these conflicts is not to spend much time on that. It doesn’t interest me. I have a huge interest in getting out of the way of this type of conversation and focusing on what it is that is important in this. What is it that is important in our relationship? I will say to people that I want to find a way with them not to spend too much time on this. That’s my main driver now. I want to focus on legacy, I don’t want to focus on trash.
The second thing in how to separate what matters from what’s in the way, is to separate people from their problems. This person is not my enemy, even if they’re in conflict with me. In fact the people who oppose me, teach me more than people who stand next to me. I’m focused on people who oppose me as a source of learning. When I was younger, I used to have a karate teacher. I have a brown belt in karate. I used to have a very small karate teacher, he was my little personal Mr. Miyagi, and my personal miracle. He used to push me over, stand on my stomach to see if I breathed out correctly when I was doing my situps. He taught me all sorts of things like, what do you do when someone wields a knife. I’d say to him, “I would do this move or that move.” and he would say, “You’re crazy, run away!”. I hated him at times, because he was such a tough taskmaster. He taught me more than ‘yes sayers’. I used to be a Director of multinationals and I used to hire people who would be ‘no sayers’ on purpose, because they would usually teach me something. Separating people from problems is an important one in conflict resolution. “Yes, we have a problem, you are not the problem.”. Remaining respectful in that sense is important.
Separating problems from solutions is another next step. Thinking about; what’s it about? Where did it begin? I work with a lot of engineers. They go straight to solutions, instead of looking at what the problem really is. The problem is not the waves, it’s the tides. You must do a good, “what is the problem here?”, before you go to solutions. That’s why I say separating problems from solutions is very important. Taking the time to think about, “the trash – what is it that is evoked in me? Where do we end up? What do we need to do at this level? Also, at the level of not repeating this kind of problem in our lives is important.”. Separating the future from the past seems obvious, however, people in conflict often repeat their past and they set you up to repeat their past. It’s very important to think about whether this is something that’s going on in the here and now? What will be the effect on our future? I’d rather focus on who we want to be instead of who we were. That could be an entrance to conflict resolution.
One of the things that I think is important is, before you talk about a solution when you’re separating problems, talk about the criteria. How are we going to choose a solution? These criteria are something based both in fact and in value. It is important to say, “this is the problem. We’ve dug deep. We have found where the problem lies. How are we going to choose solutions? What is important to you in that? What’s important to me in that?”. Only then to move towards solutions. The important thing is to separate what matters from what’s in the way. Use that as a guideline to do conflict resolution for you.
I hope this helps you get to the important stuff in your life, instead of sticking with the trash.