Can't We All Just Get Along? Keeping Your Cool in a Conflict

In their efforts to “win” and be “right,” people often let disagreement escalate into a futile and frustrating struggle for power. But conflict doesn’t have to be adversarial. When handled carefully, a conflict can defuse hostility, generate alliances, and stimulate creative solutions. In the case of confronting an issue that has been ignored or avoided, conflict can be especially liberating. And the basic tools of conflict resolution can be learned and practiced by anyone.

Because conflict is an inevitable part of life, it makes sense to learn some simple conflict resolution strategies. Below, I’ve presented my take on the National Multicultural Institute’s nine-step model for conflict resolution to help get you started.

First, take a moment to reflect on a stressful conflict from your recent past. Then as you review the following guidelines, mentally compare each suggestion to what actually happened in your conflict. Imagine how things might have gone differently and pinpoint your particular strengths and weaknesses. Finally, consider how you might adapt your approach to improve the outcome of future conflicts.

  1. Listen with respect and openness. Before you even begin a discussion, calm yourself and step back from your emotions. Try not to take the situation personally, even if you feel defensive or under attack. Let go of grudges and preconceptions so that you enter the conversation with an open mind. Imagine that you are hearing everything for the first time.

  2. Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. It’s easy to get trapped in tunnel vision, in which we convince ourselves that our way is the only way. Especially if the conflict surrounds a longstanding problem, it’s difficult to see things as the other person might see them. But it is crucial to set your pride aside and really listen. Avoid assumptions and ask questions if you don’t understand. Verbally summarize what you heard them say and ask for confirmation or clarification.

  3. Let the other person hear an explanation of your perspective. Explain your viewpoint clearly and patiently. Make sure to separate the person from the problem. In other words, focus on behaviors or situations that you want to change rather than personal traits. If you remain calm, use “I” statements and non-judgmental language, and stick to the facts during this step, then you increase the likelihood that the other person will listen.

  4. Recognize similarities and differences. Part of this involves defining the problem to ensure that you are talking about the same issue. Too often, people skip this step and simply assume that their respective complaints or goals are mutual. But it’s necessary to state the problem explicitly to avoid circling and frustration. Once you establish that you’re talking about the same problem, there are always at least one or two points on which you already see things similarly. If you can’t find any common ground, you might need to return to step one. As you identify differences, be careful not to use an accusatory or judgmental tone of voice.

  5. Acknowledge any cultural differences. Sometimes gender, race, religion, and other aspects of cultural identity and values remain an unspoken but powerful factor in a conflict. It’s not always easy to bring these into the open, but open acknowledgment of cultural differences can help define the relevant issues and sort out underlying unconscious motivations.

  6. Look for common ground. Find something—anything—to agree on, even if it’s just being able to name a common goal. Remind yourself that everyone will benefit if you can see this as a cooperative process.

  7. Recommend action. Be creative. Brainstorm as many possibilities as you can without worrying about how to achieve them. Even outlandish ideas might inspire other, more viable ones.

  8. Determine what adaptations each person is willing to make to find a satisfactory alternative. Where can you be flexible? What are your priorities and needs? See if you can sacrifice a little to accomplish your broader objectives. This is when keeping the “big picture” in mind matters most.

  9. Negotiate an agreement. Be realistic. You may decide you need to meet again for further discussion. You may have to check with other stakeholders to get their approval for your solutions. Or in some cases, you may just have to agree to disagree. If you find yourself stuck, consider hiring a professional mediator.

In the heat of the moment, it sometimes feels more important to be right than to maintain a respectful, win-win attitude. But if you approach your conflict with goodwill, calm, and trust in the collaborative process, you’ll find that even monumental conflicts can be overcome.

In most cases, conflict is about more than one issue; it’s about a relationship. Recognize that with a little give and take, the conflict resolution process has the potential to strengthen your rapport with others. And each successful resolution will give you the confidence and abilities to negotiate future encounters with ease.

To learn more about win-win conflict resolution, I highly recommend that you read Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
This book explains how to see situations from other perspectives, how to maintain goodwill as you negotiate, and the finer points of getting your needs met without competition and hostility. You can read excerpts from the book or purchase it at Amazon.com.

Sources: National Multicultural Institute (NMCI), Nine-Step Model for Conflict Resolution; The Media Trust, Conflict resolution: Detailed facts and guidelines.


Awaken to Life with a Daily Ritual

While a fast-paced routine and high expectations are not inherently bad, the full-throttle way of life can spiral into counterproductive patterns of worry, overcommitment, and perfectionism. If your current lifestyle depletes rather than feeds your happiness, a daily ritual might restore your sense of balance and personal power.

Each morning, I awaken myself literally and metaphorically with a ritual. Otherwise, auto-pilot thrusts me into a rush of work, errands, and agitation that I find unsatisfying. To give you a sense of what I mean by a “ritual,” here’s an example of how my morning ritual brings me to life:

The alarm clock siren startles me into consciousness. I envision leaving the haven of my warm blankets for the obligations that await me. I fight the temptation to stay in bed, and ultimately my dog licks my face and scampers across my body enough times to overrule my urge to linger. Finally, with a determined heave, I put both feet on the floor. It’s a new day, for what it’s worth.

I put on my workout clothes and wash my face so there’s no excuse not to walk out my front door, no temptation to eat breakfast or check email (there’s time for that later). As I grab my dog Luna’s leash and we head out the front door, my eyes adjust to the half-dark of dawn. The possibilities of the day take shape alongside the shadowy forms of oak trees and mailboxes that line the street.

At first, I run at a slow pace. I focus internally to remind my muscles to relax into the natural rhythm of my pace and monitor the gradual rise in my heart rate. I rotate my focus between breathing, relaxation, and posture. After a few minutes this becomes more effortless, and I transfer my attention to my surroundings. I hear the steady sounds of my footfalls on the sidewalk as I watch the clouds evolve through the color spectrum of sunrise.

As my body warms, the natural setting and rhythmic motions open up a sacred space in which I appreciate my body’s limits, capabilities, and presence in the environment. It’s a transition from rest to action that establishes my physical and spiritual aliveness. As I enjoy the changing light of dawn, I consider all the blessings in my life. I finish my run with a sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and hope, just as the sun’s full brilliance shines above the horizon.

After a cool-down and a good stretch, I savor a homemade carrot muffin with orange juice and coffee. I visualize how I will soak up every sight, sound, and texture that I can today. I might admire two cardinals as they take flight from the branches of an azalea bush or exchange a smile with a stranger. Like the nourishing flavors of my breakfast, these small pleasures are the fuel that I need to appreciate the wonders of being alive and to make the most of the day.

Whether you begin or end your day with a meaningful ritual, try not to rush the process or consider it an obligation. If you are strict or critical of yourself when you skip a day or if you imagine that you’re “not doing it right,” then you’re missing the point.

Instead, see your ritual’s potential to focus your intention on a positive feeling or attitude that you’d like to cultivate. You may choose to meditate each morning to expand your capacity for joy or gratitude, or to establish a nighttime ritual to relieve the tension that accumulates throughout the day and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.

Each day offers a smorgasbord of sensation and possibility that will never present itself in the same way again. There are lessons to learn from the people and environments that we encounter, but we must join the world in order to derive meaning from it. We are responsible for drawing or creating beauty from the raw materials of “what is” and taking action to construct the forms of our lives. Use your ritual to help you make the most of this day. Use it to soothe, replenish, and expand your consciousness.

Living well now contributes to a better tomorrow. Rushing through life worrying about the future will not. So do yourself a favor. Wake up. Eat a muffin. And get out there and live.

My morning ritual would not be possible without the ChiRunning technique, which made it possible for me to run without knee pain. Using a combination of breathing, posture, and awareness, ChiRunning transformed my daily walk into a running ritual that relaxes and energizes me. Find it at your local library or read excerpts and buy it at Amazom.com: