Conflict is an interesting beast because it involves two competing sides, your side and theirs. You both want to convince each other that you're right, prove the other wrong, and persuade them to nominate you as the winner. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, this approach can activate negative emotional and physical reactions that can seriously hurt relationships. On the other hand, if put in check, conflict can be a beautiful gift that can strengthen relationships by activating positive emotional and physical reactions that enhance trust and empathy.
Typically, how would you say your disagreements are resolved? Is there yelling, tears, or threats? Do both parties end up feeling angry, defeated, and frustrated?
Did you take the time to listen to their point of view? Did you put yourself in their shoes to try and understand where they were coming from and why they are taking that stance? Were you able to find resolve? Did both parties walk away feeling loved, energized, and inspired?
It's ok if the first reaction is how you typically handle conflict. This article will help you understand why you react this way and help shift your negative emotional and physical reactions to positive ones so that you can enhance trust and empathy in any conflict you encounter.
I like to incorporate activities into my blogs because it is far more effective than just reading the theory. If you can, go into a quiet room or space where you can concentrate and focus on this exercise.
Now, I want you to think about a recent conflict you encountered. Once you have selected a conflict, I want you to focus on the person you had the conflict with; we can refer to this person as your conflict partner.
Chances are, as you remember this event, it's triggering negative emotions. What's happening is that your saboteurs are being activated. Saboteurs are negative emotions that were developed when you were a child to help you cope with conflict. As you got older, these saboteurs grew stronger and could be quickly activated to "protect" you, like a defense mechanism. These same saboteurs were activated when this conflict was taking place. What's even more profound is that your conflict partner's saboteurs were also being activated. This is important because you both associate conflict with some level of pain, fear, and uncertainty. You will do whatever it takes to protect yourself from those feelings, even if it means hurting the other person.
Full disclosure, for this exercise to have a deeper meaning and impact, you would need to take my Saboteur to Sage program, where you could learn all the saboteurs and learn how to identify them in yourself and others. However, you will still be able to find valuable tips and takeaways from this exercise and article.
Go back to picturing your conflict partner.
Can you visualize them as a five-year-old child? Pay attention to their child-like features, expressions, and overall being. What's beautiful about them? What can you appreciate about them? What words can you use to describe the essence of their personality?
Take a moment to understand and appreciate that they are a combination of greatness and unpleasant saboteurs, just like you. Picturing your conflict partner as a child helps you find and feel compassion towards them.
Now that you have compassion towards your conflict partner, you are ready for the next step of the exercise, to empathize.
To empathize with your conflict partner, you must put yourself in their shoes and commit to understanding what it might feel like to be them. If you had the opportunity to ask them why they believe what they believe, could you find a deeper reason or motivation for their position? Explore any fears or concerns that might influence their position. Do any overlap with your concerns or fears?
After exploring life in their shoes, do you have more compassion, understanding, and empathy for them?
Of course, when you're doing this exercise, you don't have the person next to you or on the other end of the phone. When conflict occurs, the goal is to find yours and their underlying motivations or needs below your surface position. Once you can go beneath, you can identify the root cause for each side, and you can both empathize with each other and find creative ways to fulfill each other's needs.
A simple but common conflict example is a disagreement between couples trying to decide where to eat for dinner. One wants to eat nearby at a Mediterranean restaurant while the other wants to drive thirty minutes to a Chinese restaurant. This quickly creates tension. However, once they ask why they want to eat there, they reveal the motivation behind their choice and why they want to eat at that restaurant.
The one who wants to eat at the Mediterranean restaurant wants to eat there because:
- It's quiet and wants to be able to spend quality time with their partner,
- It's close to the house, which would allow them to get home earlier, which is important because they have a big presentation in the morning.
The one that wants to eat at the Chinese restaurant wants to eat there because:
- They have been craving soup all-day
- It's affordable; they are concerned about their budget.
After discussing their why, fears, and concerns, they realized this could be solved by eating at their local Thai restaurant. This restaurant is nearby, offers soup, is affordable, and is quiet.
This is a simple example but illustrates the concept well.
Going back to your conflict, how do you feel now that you have had the time to visualize and understand their side? What insights come to mind? Give yourself the acknowledgment and praise you deserve for choosing to act with generosity and your willingness to put yourself in their shoes and understand their side.
I hope you found this exercise helpful, practical, and repeatable in your daily life. To take conflict management to the next level, sign up for my Saboteur to Sage program and learn how to weaken your saboteurs and activate your positive sage powers to live a more fulfilled life.