The following is section 1 from Module 4 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.
Creating Safety While Sharing Your Perspective
It is my experience that many who are uncomfortable with conflict are also uncomfortable requesting what they need or sharing what they think. We have an assumption that by initiating a request or sharing a divergent opinion, we run the risk of seriously upsetting the other person. Depending on the nature of the request it might be perceived as critical of that person and serve to upset the relationship. There is also the risk of having the request denied, the opinion ignored and the subsequent conflict that may develop. Maybe it is just easier not to ask or share. The consequences just seem too risky.
The question we too often face is this; “Is this context safe, and is this a safe person with whom to share my needs, thoughts, and ideas?” At a basic level we engage in a cost/benefit analysis. What are the risks of sharing my perspective on this topic? What is possible, or what are the potential benefits of putting forth my ideas? While these questions may be valid, our analysis of the situation does not always provide a complete or accurate understanding of the situation. We too often focus on the risks and loose sight of the benefits.
Asking the question, “Should I share” may be appropriate. However, the fundamental question needs to be, “how do I put forth what I need to share in a way that will make it easy for the others to hear, understand, and respond?” There are a number of basic and yet very effective strategies that will support our success in this phase of a collaboration.
In Module 2 we introduced the notion of shifting our overall orientation when engaging a potentially challenging conversation. One shift suggested was from “either/or thinking” to “and” thinking. When engaged in either/or thinking we can quickly become polarized around the notion of one of us being right and one wrong. As a result, we tend to adopt a defensive or adversarial posture and spend little time in joint exploration. We believe that there is room for only one perspective on the table; ours. Shifting to “and” thinking breaks this paradigm. “And” is inclusive in that it seeks to hear from and explore the multiple perspectives around what is typically a complex issue. “I want to hear and understand your perspective AND I want to add my perspective.” I am sharing my perspective, not as a rebuttal to your point of view, but in service of our shared learning and understanding.
All of this is in service of our primary objective for collaboration. We choose to collaborate because we are pursuing a shared objective and are committed to an outcome that will be acceptable to all. In the book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High this is referred to as a “Commitment to Mutual Purpose”. The authors advocate the value in stating this commitment at the outset of the conversation as a foundational element for creating safety. When parties recognize that we are seeking a mutually acceptable outcome, they are more willing to drop their defensiveness and begin a joint exploration of the issue(s).
While this commitment sets the stage, it does not make the conversation easy. We still may be talking about significant issues around which there are often strong emotions. It is essential, therefore, that we maintain civility and respect in the conversation. A question identified above asks, “How do I put forth what I need to share in a way that will make it easy for the others to hear and respond?” Both what we say and how we say it is critical. We will learn more about this in the next section. Suffice it to say at this point that we want to share our perspective in such a way that it neither negates nor disrespects the other person or their ideas. In summary, we are always looking to maintain a conversation that is safe and supports our ability to fully explore the issues.
As a group,use the following questions to increase your shared understanding of putting forth your perspective in challenging conversations:
- In what contexts do you find it most difficult to share your perspective?
- Describe a situation when you experienced a conversation where people were able to openly share and discuss divergent points of view? What contributed to the success of this conversation?
- What do you need to feel safe sharing your perspective with those who may disagree with you?
- What can you do to increase the likelihood that people will share openly their ideas with you?