We often engage in conflicts on ground we didn’t choose.
We go into engagements with people and wander through them, surprised by the depth of the presenting problems, caught off guard by the visceral nature of the emotions, and completely off balance in how to respond.
In addressing conflicts on topics we didn’t choose (the ground) we often take the Donald Rumsfeld approach of engaging in the conflict we didn’t want with the tools we already have, and we wind up in the opposite of the General Grant position of worrying about what we are going to do in the conflict. Our responses become reactions, our reactions become incendiary, and then we engage in conflict avoidance the next time a problem arises on ground we didn’t choose.
There are a few ways out of this:
- Make a plan. Never go into an interaction with someone where you know that a conflict will arise, without making a plan for what you’re going to say or do.
- Implement the plan. Many plans fail for lack of execution. Many approaches to conflict fail, because it’s easier to rea a list of best practices and then forget about that list, than it is to implement them.
- Ruthlessly focus on your goals in the interaction. Make goals in the planning stages and then ruthlessly focus on accomplishing them. Your goals might be to preserve the relationship, to side-step an older argument, or even to hold onto your heart, but no matter what they are, focus on accomplishing them.
- Let adults be adults. Don’t own the other party’s emotional content. They can carry it around by themselves well enough without you. Constantly checking in on yourself internally as you engage, may seem like a daunting task, but here’s the thing: it’s even more daunting to just surrender and accept the other party’s paradigm or premise.
- Get out. Sometimes, an exit from an interaction is the entirety of the purpose of your interaction. There’s nothing wrong with choosing this as a goal. But how you exit one interaction, sets up how you enter another.
The best case scenario is to engage in conflict on ground you have chosen. Barring that option, engage with intentionality and focus.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org