So if we know a little about our fundamental beliefs about difficult conversations and conflict, and we have reflected on our personal conflict preference, how do we try and achieve meaningful results in a difficult conversation?
Next in the planning, we need to consider the wants / needs that we have and the other person may have.
In negotiation theory, these are known as positions (tangible, concrete) and interests (underlying needs / fears / concerns). (For more information please check my Chinese horoscope Snake post.)
Often we launch into a difficult conversation without stopping to plan ahead. If we are able to reflect on our positions and interests, we can then consider how else our interests might be met? what else could address our need / fear / concern? Is there a chance that the other person might find this more palatable?
Crucially, once we have conducted this exercise for ourselves, we can then ask these same questions for the other person. In mediation, I often see one party refuse an offer. When they are pressed to make a counter-proposal, they merely repeat their rejection of the offer that has been made. Sometimes this is a tactic, to make the other person negotiate against themselves.
Often I think it is because none of this planning has occurred before the mediation. People become fixated on their own position and just repeat what they want like a mantra. The challenge of having to change gear and think about how to adapt this is overwhelming in the mediation session itself.
Help yourself, if you are going into a difficult conversation - prepare! Understand your own positions / interests / alternatives and consider the other person's positions / interests / possible alternatives.
This is now real for me. My podcast Map the Maze which starts on 22 June is now on Apple Podcasts.
We all have a preference for our conflict style. In mediation, we often use the lens of the Thomas Kilman Instrument which arranges preferences along two axes.
One measures concern for our own goals / assertiveness and the other measures concern for others / co-operativeness.
For those who have a high focus on their own goals and a relatively low interest in relationships, they may adopt a competitive stance. For those who wish to dash to a conclusion or get a deal, they may compromise too quickly to achieve the deal. Each conflict preference has a pro / con. It may sound like being competitive may sound like a winning strategy, but if this is a long-term relationship then winning at all costs may backfire.
Having spoken to many people in training / classes about their personal conflict preferences, most people have a strong idea of their own preference. We know ourselves. What people are less aware of is that we are all able to adapt our behaviour to assume a different style if we want to.
What criteria should we use to decide which style to use?
Using these criteria to approach communication in conflict can be part of a planning process that occurs prior to the interaction. Next time you are approaching a difficult conversation, pause and think for a moment about how you could be in the conflict?
In 1968 as the world mourned the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Jane Elliott a teacher turned her classroom into a room divided. The lessons from that class have provided the basis for her work for decades in anti-discrimination and anti-racism work. Watch here.
I am of mixed race and have experienced racism, yet nothing prepared me for living in the US and seeing what my African American friends experienced daily. Learning a little of what they experience on a daily basis was shocking.
This week has been terrible in so many places around the world, today I am not posting my scheduled content and just wanted to remind all of us to listen, learn and act.
Voices that I have found compelling like Killer Mike (here with Stephen Colbert giving ideas for how to get involved), Van Jones, Trevor Noah and Charlamagne tha God each have words that we can all learn from. Most importantly they want everyone to act.