Conflict and disagreement are part of life. Most people don’t like it and some don’t even want to think about it, but any time people come together to meet, work or live together, there will inevitably be conflict.
This isn’t a bad thing, it is simply a fact. We are great communicators and generally, we negotiate well.
As a social species, we have evolved to live and work together collectively. We rely on each other for our very survival and for the most part we rub along without conflict ruining everything.
We are natural conflict resolvers
Watch any news channel for five minutes and you might not agree with this, but proportionately we avoid or resolve most disagreements that arise. This is particularly true of us as individuals. As we go about our daily lives we manage our relationships diplomatically.
The vast majority of our interactions run smoothly, but this goes unnoticed. What gets our attention, and what we tend to remember, are the relatively few occasions where things go wrong.
The surprising thing about people is not that we get into fights, it is that for most of the time we manage NOT to get into fights.
When things go wrong
When it does flare up, conflict uses a disproportionate amount of our time and energy. Handled badly it causes untold pain and disruption in our lives. If the social skills we rely on to keep the wheels on our relationships turning, fail us, then we are in difficult territory.
Most of us have never been taught how de de-escalate or resolve conflict and in our clumsiness, we often manage to make things worse. Our limited set of responses to conflict can get us into trouble because we tend to default to one or two habitual reactions we sense a threat.
How to break the deadlock
If our attempts at negotiation fail we too easily abandon our attempts to resolve it. When we can’t see our way past blockage we assume that the problem can’t be solved, and give up. This is a missed opportunity. We are slow to learn that, when our usual way of talking and acting is not working for us, it’s time to try something different.
Creative questions to help you move on
The way to break the cycle and to create new possibilities is through the use of ‘creative questions’. These are not intended to resolve the issue at a stroke. If that was possible the dispute would already have been resolved. They work by taking the disputants to a different ‘logical level’. In order to answer them, you have to step away from the ‘conflict’ mindset that is creating the problem.
Such questions are stepping-stones that can open the way to solutions. Some examples of creative questions which could be useful in a conversation about conflict or disagreement.
- “What would you like to happen as a result of our conversation?”
- “How will you know this conversation has been useful for you?”
- “What do we need to do differently to help this relationship work better?”
- “If I could give you what you are asking for, how would that help you?”
- “How do you think we might resolve this together?”
- “Can we take a moment to think about other tensions/arguments/difficult situations we have been able to resolve together? How did we manage that?”
- “If we were helping two other people settle a difference, what would we advise them to do?”
- “If we already had the solution to this, what would we be doing?”
- “If we don’t manage to find a way through this, what will the effect on our relationship be?”
- “I know we can’t agree at the moment, but what if, by some magical twist of fate, we could. What do you think we’d be saying to each other right now?”
Questions have been called ‘keys’; they can open the door to new thinking. These questions can help you find a way past an impasse. Not because they provide an immediate answer or an ‘aha!’ moment, but because they offer the chance to refresh a stale interaction by taking the conversation in a new direction.
They offer an opportunity to think a little differently. From there on, it’s up to you.