Resolving conflict – some practical steps
After contemplating on some reframes and underpinning dynamics that make conflict unsustainable and unfruitful, I want to offer some practical tips on how to resolve conflict.
When we stop listening and become preoccupied with strategies of how to best defend our position. We harden around our opinion and start identifying with it. This leads to interpreting everything the other will say as a threat. If we return to listening, we create space.
First step: listen to yourself!
We do not only stop listening to the other but also to ourselves. We are in a state of arousal, potentially in fight flight and our sympathetic nervous system is activated. The prefrontal cortex that helps us make decisions is on pause. So the moment we start listening to ourselves, the tone of our voice, the sensations in our body and become aware, we can also relax this and drop back into a more centred state.
Second step: listen to the other!
Not only their words, but their entire being. Notice their face, their posture, the tone of their voice. Try not to judge but simply observe and listen. It sounds cliché but the need to be seen and heard is at the core of much conflict. By attending to this need, acknowledging and giving space to the other, the dynamic will shift drastically. Even if you still don’t agree.
Third step: listen to the relationship!
Imagine you are including the other into an imagined bubble of awareness that exists around your body. Notice the shared space you inhabit. Become aware of commonalities. Breathe in sync. And possibly say to yourself “I am with you” while still listening to yourself and the other as well. If you managed to access this fully it can express in a powerful and tangible shift. It is almost as if the the tension in the air releases and on the receiving end it can be felt as well. There is no more opposition but connection. No more against but only with.
If you “only” manage to do this one thing: to listen fully, you will transform much of your life, relationships and particularly conflict.
Let go of the need to be right
You do not have to agree with each other in order to move beyond conflict. Maybe you are familiar with the saying that we would rather be right than happy. And this is true for most of us. How many times did you find yourself stuck with your position, kept arguing for it even though on another level you did not even know if it was right. We get stuck on an idea of winning and again identify with our opinions. The ability to critically assess your own position, remain open to hearing another side and not take someone disagreeing with you personally is at the core of resolving conflict.
Remember how I said, most conflict can be retraced to an internal conflict? We need to make peace with our own internal world first. This is why should’ing yourself never works, especially not when there is additional external pressure. How does the internal conflict express? Mostly through suppressing the emotions we experience, pushing down our voice, denying our own needs and allowing boundaries to be crossed, all the while trying to maintain a composed exterior. But what happens when you notice a boundary being crossed, anger rising as a signal of that and you do not listen?
If you try to suppress and shush away your own experience in a situation of disagreement, you suddenly have to manage two fronts. Overwhelm guaranteed. So for next time, attempt to welcome your experience instead. Similar to listening to yourself but one step further. You might be surprised how welcoming your internal experience will impact the external conflict.
Holding multiple perspectives and connecting to love
And the most profound perspective to take on conflict is dropping into the realisation that in the end we are all connected. Sounds a little woo woo or abstract? Fair enough. How about tapping into our ability to hold multiple perspectives at the same time and one of them being love?
Like a parent that sends their kids to bed and does not yield even when they scream and cry. The disagreement is on a surface level. Like the waves on top of the ocean. Underneath is something else, something deeper. There is love. A parent can say “no, you cannot stay up AND I love you” without feeling any contradiction.
Why can we not do this with strangers? Because we believe we are separate and because we keep hearing that if someone disagrees with us, they are against us. Let’s move towards a shift in perspective. An expansion. Practice saying in your head “No, AND I love you”.
What are your thoughts and reflections? Keen to try?