Module 2: Starting with Self: Section 3

The following is Section 3 from Module 2 of “Essential Skills for Engaging Conflict,” a course that Sound Options Group developed in partnership with Oklahoma State University.  These modules are a great resource to lead your team through as you work to improve your conflict engagement skills.

3.  Becoming “At Integrity” with a commitment to Mutual Purpose

This module is designed to support intentionality when preparing to engage a conversation in which conflict is likely to surface.  Lawrence Susskind, negotiations theorist and practitioner, has said that when preparing to negotiate, 60% of your overall time should be spent in preparation.  Fundamentally preparation is about bringing our intentions, speaking, and actions into alignment.  We are said to be “at integrity” when this is the case and “out of integrity” when out of alignment in one or more areas.  Being “out of integrity” does not mean that we lack, or do not value integrity.  It basically means that we are currently “not walking our talk” and that if we want to increase our effectiveness we need to take action.

When preparing to engage challenging conversation it is useful to focus our attention in three areas:

  • Personal Preparation,
  • Substantive Preparation, and
  • Procedural Preparation

Personal Preparation:  takes place in the context of self-awareness and self-management.  It is about owning responsibility for your choices and bringing them into alignment with your commitments.  It is about assessing your orientation to the conversation and intentionally shifting it when appropriate.  It was once described to me by an instructor as “shifting from judgment and fear, to curiosity and compassion”.

Some questions to support this reflection are adapted from the book Crucial Conversations:   Tools for Talking When Stakes are High:

  • What is our purpose for having the conversation?
  • What am I committed to:
  • for myself?
  • for others?
  • for this relationship?
  • What does my behavior tell me about what my motives are?
  • How do I bring my behavior in line with these commitments?

Substantive Preparation:  focuses on the content of our conversation.  Too often people enter challenging conversations with a set of assumptions regarding the purpose and objectives for the engagement.  We are often unclear as to what the “real” issues are.  We are also unclear as to our real interests around the issue in addition to having no real clue as to what is important to the other person.  In addition our perspective may be tainted by “stories” others have shared withus regarding the situation.

Some questions to support substantive reflection and preparation include:

  • What are the issues?
  • What is your story?  What assumptions are you operating from?
  • How might you test these assumptions?
  • What are your interests? Theirs? Common?
  • What information is needed to engage the conversation intelligently?
  • What are possible options based on interests and mutual gains?

Procedural Preparation:  focuses less on the “what” of the conversation and more on the “how”.  What agreements might we want to make prior to engaging the issue(s) that might support our effectiveness?  When choosing to engage particularly challenging conversations we might want to talk about “how” we might proceed actually proceeding.

Some questions to support procedural reflection and preparation include:

  • How do we maintain a positive tone?
  • How will we maintain safety?
  • How do we sustain our commitment to mutual benefit and gain?
  • Do we need to clarify shared expectations?
  • Logistics:  Time, Location, Who needs to participate in this conversation, etc.

As a group,use the following questions to increase your shared understanding of effective preparation for engaging conflict?

  •  Identify a challenging conversation you have had recently in which you were insufficiently prepared.
  • What was the outcome?
  • What was missing based on what has been shared in this module?
  • Identify a challenging conversation that you and/or your team is anticipating.
  • What will you do to prepare to engage this conversation with maximum effectiveness?






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