Conflicts are unavoidable at work, at home, and in national and international debate. Learn how to defuse conflict and make it a constructive tool for change.
If there is more than one person involved in a situation, there is a possibility of conflict. Many people view conflict as intrinsically negative — a combat from which they must emerge victorious. But the constructive management of conflict offers opportunities for all parties to benefit and problems to be solved. Everyone wins.
To help others manage conflict, Stephen Hecht, Co-founder and Chief Executive Peacemaker of Million Peacemakers and a YPO member, shared an approach now used by more than 140,000 people in just over two years, as he described in a recent global conference call sponsored by the Social Engagement, Global Family Business , Women’s YPO and Spouse/Partner Business Networks.
When Hecht began work on this approach, he had two requirements for the final model: that it be experience-based and that, once learned, a simple version of it could fit on the back of a business card. Meeting those challenges, Amir Kfir, Ph.D., created the nonflict way which consists of three stages:
Step 1: Understand yourself and your partner
Conflict escalates rapidly because the individuals involved often focused on the symptoms rather than the actual problem. In many cases, they do not know what the actual problem is because they lack understanding of their own or their partner’s thoughts and feelings — a situation corrected by the use of nonflict techniques.
For example, consider the case of a married couple in conflict. The husband initiates the nonflict approach by focusing on exactly what is happening, how it makes him feel and what is important to him. He expresses those feelings in a neutral, non-combative manner.
For her part, the wife applies what Hecht calls the most important component of nonflict: active listening. When people are in conflict, they are often so busy dwelling on their own opinions and emotions that they do not think about other person’s perspective. Active listening forces a shift of focus to the other person. It involves making eye contact and putting away distractions. It builds trust.
After listening actively, the wife mirrors what the husband has said (“I am hearing that my comments earlier today hurt your feelings”) and then asks if there is anything else. This response makes the husband feel validated because he has both been heard and given the opportunity to relate “anything else.”
The roles are then switched, with the wife discussing her perspective of the conflict and the husband actively listening, mirroring and asking if there is anything else.
Step 2: Understand the shared reality
This involves getting to an understanding of the real conflict. Having both parties define that understanding switches the tone from negative to positive as the individuals answer the question: What aspects of the relationship are working well? It also calls for visualizing the worst-case scenario that might arise if the conflict cannot be resolved.
Visualization is a technique that has been proven to work in many environments, especially sports. For example, golfers may visualize the ideal shot before they swing the club. “Seeing” the desired outcome helps make it a reality.
Acknowledging that a worst-case scenario exists gives both parties a perceived need for change. This is critical to resolving conflict because humans tend to resist change until there is a compelling reason to adapt.
Step 3: Co-create a favorable outcome
After acknowledging the worst-case scenario, the two parties can shift to defining and describing the best-case scenario. Again, visualization of facts and feelings is important to this process.
The best-case scenario is the desired outcome, so it must be fully defined and agreed on before plans can be developed to achieve it. The nonflicting parties build those plans by answering the following questions: What are the obstacles to achieving the best-case scenario? Of the obstacles we can control, what can we do to overcome them? Who does what and when?
Working together to resolve a situation, rather than fight over it, flips conflict from negative to positive, and from destructive to constructive.
In March 2016, Hecht and Kfir released, “Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking,” which gives many more useful tips and examples of using nonflict techniques in almost any conflict.