I often hear the comment “It takes two to tango” when delivering conflict resolution seminars or keynotes. It is usually said to suggest that learning conflict management skills is futile unless the “Other person” also learns them and commits to employing such skills themselves – if only they would change, right?
What we are slower to recognise, however, is that this mantra applies to the evolution of the conflict probably more so than it does to the resolution of it.
We ourselves contribute to the escalation of the conflict in which we find ourselves. When conflict asks of us “May I have this dance?” we unwittingly say “Yes.” Our subsequent actions, or inactions, will contribute to the conflict landscape and narrative that we then find ourselves in.
Maybe we have avoided a difficult conversation for too long, chosen not to have given some difficult feedback, let matters ride or buried our head in the sand. Have we somehow communicated that behaviours or problems are tolerable, even condoned?
Or maybe we have responded inappropriately, used rash, agressive words, or delivered careful words using the wrong medium. Perhaps we fell into conflict’s seduction and really let rip, going on the attack and laying into the other person with exaggerations, threats and accusations.
When approaching conflict situations we should take some time to check ourselves and our own conduct so far;
- What have I done that might have contributed to where we are?
- What have I not done that might have contributed?
- What would happen if I made those actions and inactions explicit and acknowledged them? and
- Is there something I can do now to work on my contributions before setting about the other persons? Perhaps, dare I say it, we might consider an apology?
When we consider these questions then we can identify our own conflict default responses and guard against them reocurring next time we encounter a difficult situation at home or in the family. We might choose to get some conflict coaching to hold ourselves accountable and to help develop better responses.
What also happens is that we have the opportunity to approach our colleague or counterpart from a stance which says “I am not faultless in this situation AND I would like to resolve it.”
Careful positioning such as this moves us away from the attack and invites a more collaborative approach to conflict resolution.
You can imagine how the alternative plays, where we assume that all of the fault, blame even, lies on the other person’s part and that we are faultless. You can imagine it because, currently, it is what happens almost all of the time.
Apologising is a very potent area within conflict resolution and will need a post or several of its own. We can revisit that in future.
Recognising our own contribution to conflict situations is the second of the Beating Conflict Manifesto points. Coming up next we will be exploring the importance of rejecting blame.
Neil Denny is the author of Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict and an international speaker on conflict resolution skills and collaboration. Neil’s contact details are here.