If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link. This is not an opt-in.
If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do something the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.
When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?
If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.
So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:
Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.
Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.
Emotions as Tools model:
1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment
2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception that created it.
3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.
4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.
The three steps of conflict resolution:
1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.
2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.
3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).
The 7 step process:
Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.
With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.
Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.
Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.
If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.
This is why.
The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.
When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.
The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.
The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.
Note: A future article will address the indirect anger shown by women in our society and the tendency of men to use anger as a substitute for hurt. You can, for now, assume that anger in a conflict reflects some underlying threat. You will not lose with this strategy.
Step 3: Keep your own head level.
Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.
-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.
-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.
-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story
-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.
-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.
Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.
In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:
(i) Threat to Autonomy
Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.
(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness
Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.
Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed
(iii) Threat of Loss
Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.
An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.
Step 5: Address the presenting issue.
Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.
Step 6: Resolve the conflict
Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.
Step 7: Finalize the agreement
State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.
As establishing that you understand the other person (empathy) can be very important in resolving conflict, I encourage you to scroll down this site and revisit my earlier posts on empathy.
I welcome your comments.