Conflict transformation is the ability to creating lasting change.
Now, conflict is what we experience on a daily basis and most of the conflicts have easy and immediate solutions. Others, instead, can be very painful.
Whenever I ask participants in my workshops what words they associate with conflict, they come up with expressions that have most of the time a negative quality. They associate conflict with fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, loneliness, anger, etc.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
In fact, conflict can be reframed as an opportunity and as an invitation to meet the next developmental challenge.
Conflict, in fact, is an opportunity: for personal growth, for taking a relationship to the next level, or for upgrading the culture of an organization.
It can be an invitation to be creative and to try something new.
When we reframe conflict as an opportunity and an invitation, then the option for conflict transformation becomes a possibility.
Here are the 7 Steps for Conflict Transformation that I teach in my workshops and training.
1. TAKE 100 PERCENT RESPONSIBILITY.
Have you noticed? When we are in a conflict, we always point the finger towards the other. It’s him! It’s her! It’s never us.
And the more intense the conflict is, the more it’s us vs. them. That happens when we are in a reactive mode, which happens a lot. It’s part of our animal instinct; when we feel we are in danger, we either fight or flee.
But the truth is that when we are in a conflict, we are part of that dynamic. We have co-created that reality. And as long as we continue the finger pointing game, we give up our power to make choices and to changes.
Stop blaming. Stop making excuses. Instead, reclaim your power. Become aware of how you have contributed to a given situation. And decide on what’s the best next step.
Be honest with yourself. How have your actions (or your inaction) contributed to that situation? How have you enabled the behavior of others? What choices have you been pushing off?
Taking full responsibility is not about blaming yourself or feeling guilty. To the contrary, it’s about reclaiming your power; the power to make a choice that is best for your well-being and the betterment of a relation, whether in your personal life or the workplace.
Jim Rohn said it best:
You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself.
2. MANAGE YOUR STATE OF MIND FOR CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION
Whenever you are involved in a conflict, and you feel anxious, frustrated, fearful, you have become a hostage of external circumstances.
In other words, you are “at effect.” That is, you have lost your power, you make excuses, and blame others for how you are feeling.
The truth is that, though external circumstances can be challenging and trigger all sorts of negative emotions, to dwell in those emotions and feel disempowered is a state of mind of your making, though you do so unconsciously.
While experiencing a negative emotion is something you cannot control when it first emerges, dwelling in that emotion is instead a choice you do make.
This also means that it is in your power to choose a more resourceful and proper state of mind, one that will assist you in meeting the challenge in a way that is empowering and transformative.
How do you need to feel when you are going through a conflict? Confident? Courageous? Assertive? Patient? Merciful? Open? Serene?
Knowing how to create a resourceful state of mind and how to stack several of those states of mind is an essential skill for conflict transformation.
A resourceful state of mind will help you to be “at cause”: you take responsibility, you are in charge of your destiny, and you will be clear about what’s the best next step for you.
3. KNOW YOUR OUTCOME
You need to keep the eyes on the prize if you want to be effective at conflict transformation.
Unless you are clear on what you really want, you will be lost in the woods. You will react to external circumstances. You are a hostage of the situation or other people.
Knowing what you want, what your desired outcome is, will help you to be “at cause” instead of being “at effect.”
It’s the golden rule of any good negotiator: clarifying what the desired outcome is. If you want to go somewhere, you need to know the address.
To know your desired outcome is a key principle for success in life, and it also applies to one’s ability for conflict transformation.
4. BUILD RAPPORT AT ALL TIMES
Think of crisis negotiators. When they arrive on the scene of a delicate situation, the first and most important thing they need to do is to bond and build rapport with the hostage taker.
In fact, on the crisis negotiator’s ability to bond with the hostage takers depends the fate of the people they have kidnapped.
But the capacity to build rapport is not valid only when you are in an extreme situation. This is a skill that is also crucial for conflict transformation.
Think about it. The chance to create change rest on your capacity to understand the others, to put yourself in their shoes, to discover what their needs and motivations are. In one word, you need to know their map of the world.
Thus, building rapport is an essential skill and strategy for conflict transformation.
It involves not only the capability to ask questions, but also (and I’d say most importantly) to consciously use non-verbal communication.
In fact, as we know, more than 70 percent of our communication is non-verbal. Our unconscious picks up lots of clues from how other held their bodies, the frequency of their breath, the tone of the voice, etc.
This is why mastering the ability to use non-verbal communication to efficiently and quickly bond with others, is an essential key to conflict transformation.
5. DISCOVER UNDERLYING NEEDS
A destructive behavior might be all that absorbs your full attention. That leads to judging a person or a situation from its external appearances.
But if attention to a particular behavior is all we do, we are missing critical information. That is data that can be the key to conflict transformation.
In fact, behind a behavior, no matter how destructive or irrational it appears, there is a positive intention and needs that whoever is enacting the behavior is trying to meet.
I saw it multiple times in my work when dealing with members of gangs.
Joining a gang and committing crimes is not a positive behavior. Yet, youth living at the margins, choose sometimes that path of life.
And while the choice and the behaviors linked to joining a gang are not positive, there is on behalf of a young man that joins a gang an intention that is positive: the need for protection, for feeling significant, for belonging, etc.
Understanding what the underlying need for a negative behavior is, allows to focus on the need and the purpose (and take care of them) instead of reacting only to the behavior.
In fact, basic needs are universal, and we all adopt different strategies to satisfy them. Behavior is a strategy. The need remains, the behavior can change.
Thus, understanding what’s the underlying need expressed by a behavior provides insight and an understanding that supports an intervention for conflict transformation.
6. GET TO A HIGHER LEVEL
Albert Einstein said it best: a problem cannot be resolved at the same level it was created.
Behavior, a way of doing things, or conflicting interests can be at the root of a conflict. The experience of a conflict can make feel the parties distant and their position irreconcilable. And insisting on one’s position and arguments doesn’t help in resolving a situation. To the contrary, it can entrench parties in an ever more conflictive dynamic.
Thus, going to a higher level can help finding common ground as well as adopting a perspective that sustains conflict transformation.
For example, if the problem is experienced at the level of behavior or interest, it will be useful to experience the situation and to explore possible solutions by examining what the shared values and belief are.
This means that if two parents, for example, have a conflict on how to educate their children, it will help them to explore what their shared value is, like helping children to become responsible and independent human beings. Focusing on the why will also help to find an agreeable how.
7. INVEST IN TRAINING FOR CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION
All the steps mentioned above will help you to maintain a cooperative, open, inquisitive orientation when confronted with conflict.
And research has amply demonstrated that keeping a win-win attitude is conducive to agreements and solutions. When you stay cooperative, change is more stable and is lasting.
But unless you have developed mastery of these skills in a safe environment, like training can be, it will not be possible to have those qualities and use those strategies when you feel under pressure and stress.
This is why investing in a proper training is essential if you want to develop the qualities needed for conflict transformation.
After all, whoever wants to excel in anything needs to go through training and requires the assistance of a coach.
In my career, I have not known very successful people who have also not invested time and money in training and in being helped by extraordinary coaches.
This is why I have put together a special one-day training on Conflict Transformation. It’s a powerful, insightful and transformational training which will give you valuable insights, skills, and strategies that you will be able to use as soon as the training is over.