Conflict Resolution

Avoiding Tunnel Vision When Resolving Conflict

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When resolving conflict, the stories we tell ourselves about the other person’s motivation often distract us from what’s really going on. They can lead us to mentally ruminate on the situation instead of having a conversation with the other person that would help us plan a helpful course forward.

One of the problems is that in conflict, we don’t often provide ourselves with enough information when trying to make sense of the situation. We tend to rely on our emotions as an indication of whether the person is a “friend” or “foe” – and we usually end up seeing them as a threat in some way. They are a risk to our beliefs, our hopes, our ideas, our way of doing things, our sense of competence, and the list goes on.  

In conflict, we don’t often provide ourselves with enough information when trying to make sense of the situation.

The reality is that our personal narrative gives us a false sense of protection when we are working on resolving conflict – it acts as a buffer from the other person. This is problematic because rather than understanding the other person’s perspective, we retreat and rely on our own interpretation. In fact, it is easy to nurture the stories we hold about the other person and let them grow. We look for evidence that the other person is in the wrong, we ruminate and relive the story over and over in our mind, and we may even share our story with others to gain supporters.

 

We can easily become limited by our own tunnel vision.

In conflict, our ability to take in new information is reduced, and we believe our understanding of the person or situation is the correct one.

But the truth is, people are complicated and there is no magic trick for resolving conflict. If we want to be an agent of positive change, even during trying situations, it starts with us.

The Gandhi quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” is on my office wall as a reminder that anything that I wish was different in the world – with my friends, family, and work colleagues – begins with me. This simple but profound idea is transformational when we start to explore what it means when it comes to resolving conflict.

The antidote for allowing our stories to grow and gain momentum begins with our own curiosity. However, curiosity needs to be intentionally used if we want it to strengthen, just like a muscle. When dealing with conflict, I follow three simple steps to challenge my own story and gain clarity about what’s really happening.

If we want to be an agent of positive change, even during trying situations, it starts with us.

 

3 Steps for Resolving Conflict

Step 01 | Note and calm your emotional response.

Our emotions will inevitably emerge in conflict. In fact, just thinking about a conflict may trigger emotions.

Rather than fearing strong emotions, we should see them as a gift. They are letting us know that something isn’t working – that we aren’t okay with the current situation, and it’s time to get curious.

But before we can get curious, we need to be grounded and calm. When we feel our emotions escalating, we should take it as a sign to slow down.

Step 02 | Don’t trust your intuition about what to do.

Intuition is believing you know something without knowing why. Although it provides us with some useful information, we need to critically consider what’s at play and what our next steps should be.

In conflict, our intuition typically jumps to negative thoughts about the other person that have been triggered by our own raw emotional response – not by the reality of what is at play. We may then find ourselves perseverating on the story our intuition is telling us is true, and the story gains traction.

We all fall prey to having a “sense” of what’s really going on. But just because we believe something to be true (or wish it was) doesn’t make it so. Yes, sometimes our intuition is correct, but resolving conflict requires us to be humble enough to be willing to have it challenged.

Step 03 | Ask lots of questions of yourself.

When I’m dealing with a conflict, I start by asking myself the simple question: Could I be wrong about this? Asking this question is a good habit to get into. My typical answer is, Oh shoot, yes, I could be wrong, misinformed, or at least acting on limited knowledge.

By asking ourselves this question, we ideally create the mental and emotional space to explore what else might be at play and are ready to continue the questioning process. Most importantly, our questions should be directed toward ourselves.

The next time you’re involved in a conflict, ask yourself questions like:

  • Why does this bother me?
  • What is at stake for me?
  • What is significant about this for me?
  Sometimes our intuition is correct, but resolving conflict requires us to be humble enough to be willing to have it challenged.

If you find yourself creating a narrative or retelling the story of what you think is going on in your next conflict, strive to be aware of your emotional response and use it as a signal that you need to consider what’s next. Try to move away from trusting your intuition and ask yourself questions that call on your curiosity.

Let’s commit to not letting the stories in our heads distract us from a fuller understanding of a conflict. By following the steps above, we will be more prepared to engage in a much-needed conversation, with the goal of resolving the conflict.


Check out our printable handout on shifting judgement to curiousity. To learn about additional free FREE RESOURCES, visit our resources page.  

Author

Wendy Loewen

Managing Director

Wendy is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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