One of my early lessons as a mediator was the value of summary. While serving many purposes, the value for the mediator is the ability, to stop, take stock, and determine the next move. It has been almost 30 years since I entered the field of conflict engagement with my first 40-hour course on divorce mediation. I often describe that seminar as a life-changing event that launched me on a path of personal and professional growth.
I am focusing the next few blogs on summarizing, to the extent I can, my top ten learning’s around conflict engagement.
- Mutual Purpose / Mutual Gain: While we exist independent of each other our existence is dependent on one another. While we may perceive ourselves to have independent purpose, the expression of that purpose must consider the purpose of others if we are to live and thrive effectively in community. We are interdependent beings.
This is at the heart of our work as conflict engagement specialists. We work to shift the experience of individuals and groups from that of independent and too often mutually exclusive purpose, to a recognition and understanding of shared purpose. We assist parties to explore and jointly understand their common and individual needs and perspectives. We invite parties to choose a path leading to action that will achieve mutual gain and benefit for those involved.
2. Curiosity: One of the first casualties of conflict is curiosity. In her book, “The Last Word on Power”, Tracy Goss introduces the notion of the “Universal Human Paradigm”. The model is structured as follows:
- There is a way things “should” be.
- When they are that way, things are right with the world.
- And when they are not that way, there is something wrong with me, with you, or with it and we need to fix it.
Or, stated in another way:
- In any discussion where we are experiencing differences of opinion, there is obviously a “right” and a “wrong” answer.
- From my perspective it is obvious that I am right.
- Given that we cannot both be right, then you are obviously wrong.
- In the context of the Universal Human Paradigm, it is my job to fix this discord by convincing you that I am right and you are wrong.
It is our propensity to fall into this paradigm that compromises our effectiveness in conflict. We become polarized and our thinking and behavior becomes focused on defending our perspective. Very little effort, if any, is directed at understanding the thinking of the person whom we now see as our adversary.
The value in conflict is not found in “fixing it”, but rather in acknowledging and understanding the differences. While we often state as a core value, our respect for diversity of opinion, this respect is often absent from our challenging conversations. It is at times like these that we must increase our capacity for curiosity.
3. Self-Awareness: Most of us have developed a “way of being” when confronting conflict. While, in many cases, our response is somewhat situation specific, we tend to have a “default response” or style. Over the years I have learned that it is not about differentiating a “right style” from a “wrong style”. For the most part one can identify both pros and cons of just about any style of conflict engagement. The point is that our ability to be effective in conflict engagement is dependent on a level of self-awareness as to what we tend to do.
Between Stimulus and Response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
Effectiveness in conflict engagement is built on making intentional choices to bring our action and our speaking into alignment with a commitment to mutual purpose and taking into account our interdependence.