By: Rosalie Boulter, Paradigm Shifters Consulting Inc.
We all want to be great problem solvers and master conflict resolution and conflict transformation, but how do we do this? We need to know why we get into conflict in order to learn how to best deal with it. It is said that we don’t get into conflict about things that we don’t care about. What does this mean? Yes, there are people who love to argue but they’re not in conflict, this is enjoyment for them. If we do feel angry or upset, there’s something going on there, something that really matters to us. People are willing to enter conflict about things that are important to them. These are called conflict triggers.
The first step to learning how to more effectively navigate conflict transformation is to know ourselves. Self-awareness is key. I’ll talk about the two aspects of conflict, what we want to learn about ourselves, and why knowing all this actually helps us become better at conflict transformation.
Two Aspects of Conflict:
- Content: What the conflict is about on the surface. For instance, say you need to receive a report from a co-worker to deliver on a project you are responsible for. The report is late. That’s the content part of the conflict.
- Emotion: Conflict is emotional. You cannot leave the emotion out of conflict. Forget about it. There is an emotion you attach to the Content piece. In this example of the late report, the Emotion is the Why you are so upset about the report being late.
Why does this matter? Keep reading.
What Should I Know About myself?
There is no end of cool stuff for us to find out about ourselves if we are interested. I fascinate the heck out of myself! Here are two big areas I believe it is useful to explore:
Each of us has different things that motivate us and from which we measure our self-worth. In the framework I like to use (Strengths Deployment Inventory or SDI), people generally fall into these 7 general motivational categories:
- People & Relationships
- People & Results
- Results & Tasks
- Process & Results
- Process & Autonomy
- People & Processes
- Flexibility & Team
Recognizing yourself in one of these categories is a great step to getting to know yourself and improve your leadership development. Now bring to mind somebody that you don’t get along with very well. Which category might they fall into? Can you see how this mismatch in motivations could play into the friction? Think about an organization where there may be talk of downsizing. How might the People and Relationships person differ in their approach from the Results & Tasks person? This knowledge is a key part of conflict transformation.
We want to feel good about ourselves and conflict is a reaction to a perceived threat to our self-worth, to something we hold as important. We tend to identify ourselves by those things we believe are important.
The Differences of Behaviour, Intent, and Motivation
I want to say a little something about Behaviour, Intent, and Motivation and how they differ and how we see ourselves and others. When we, ourselves, do something, our behaviour makes perfect sense to us, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. This is what is meant when you hear that every behaviour has a positive intent, even though it can be an unskilled and even negative behaviour. Though it is mostly unconscious, we know what we are motivated by and what we intend to occur through our behaviour. Makes perfect sense. However, self-centered creatures that we are, we do not generally take the time, effort and interest to delve beneath somebody else’s behaviour to attempt to uncover their intent or their motivation. We see or experience their behaviour and make up a, usually unflattering, meaning or motive to it.
Much like motivation, we all have a Values System and we all value different things. You can look at this as the principles and rules you live by. Again, until we shine a light on this, our values drive us while we are unconscious of them. We are most triggered by those things we most value. Duh. If you take the time to reflect on the myriad of things that get you upset (in conflict), you may be surprised to discover that they boil down to about 3-5 values. I usually work with people to identify their top 10 values and see how often their behaviours align back to those 10.
Ok… So what if I have discovered my Motivation system and Values System? How does this help me get through conflict?
Why Discovering Your Motivation and Values Systems Is Important
- Knowing that people get into conflict about things that matter to them and knowing what matters to you, you can also expand your awareness by asking others what is important – what their motivation is. Again, assuming their behaviour has a positive intent (for them!), takes away our negative story and opens us up to another’s perspective, which allows us to have a better conversation. This conflict transformation conversation could potentially lead to a conflict resolution.
- Somehow, taking the time to reflect upon things that bother me and finding that underneath value calms me down. Oh! I say to myself. It’s this value that’s being impacted. Knowing that helps me find the real problem and helps me discover whether the conflict is now transformed into something else like curiosity, a desire to get involved or do something myself, or a need to attempt to resolve the conflict with somebody else. I can be proactive rather than letting my primitive, emotional brain run the show.
- One of the benefits of Self-Awareness is the bi-product that it makes us aware that everybody else is NOT just like us. Why this surprises us I do not know. It is like the content and the emotion piece: we logically know that other people are different than us but then we actually discover it emotionally – wow!
- If we focus on the content piece – the presenting problem as it were, then we are not necessarily addressing the true problem or issue, and we will never reach a conflict resolution. If we continue to address the symptom rather than the underlying cause, we tend to keep coming back to the same problem again and again, while we need to actually have a conflict transformation.
What do I do with this?
Getting to know ourselves isn’t necessarily easy. You must take the time and have the interest. Look at the Motivations I’ve listed above. Test one out. Pick one thing that really annoyed you in the last week that involved another person. (I often say if you work in an office and you haven’t received one email that didn’t set you off, you are either super lucky or in total denial!). Ask yourself:
- Which one of these motivational drivers was important to me in this situation?
- Which one of these motivational drivers might be important to the other person?
- How could I shift my approach to take both our motivations into account?
Again, this awareness and discovery doesn’t happen overnight, and we may not be able to change our perspectives about other people very quickly. Over time, though, knowing these key things about ourselves can have significant impact on our leadership development and conflict transformation skills. I know that I judge people a lot less harshly and judge myself less harshly as well. Try it out!