Our heads are the most dangerous place to be in conflict.
We tell ourselves a story about the nature of the conflict, who’s at fault (and who isn’t) and what the solution should be (preferably one that benefits us and makes the other person the enemy).
We then plunge forward, tackling the conflict with the tools that got us into the conflict in the first place: we don’t actively listen, we don’t engage emotionally with the other person’s content around and within the conflict, and we engage (happily or miserably) in the gamification of the conflict process.
We temporarily pause the conflict (sometimes for hours, days, weeks, months, years or decades) and call that pause resolution—when in reality that pause represents a “lull” in the conflict conversation, where more content floods the gap.
And after all of those steps, we look around an wonder why our workplaces, our families, our schools and our churches are not “doing what they should be doing.”
This is not a condemnation, or castigation. We have engaged in all of these steps as well, with conflicts between us and other people in our own life. We engage in some of these ways even still.
But there is a way out of the narrative trap:
- Break the language: Language = Thought and thought = language. Take a pause and review the words that you use to talk about yourself, about the other party in conflict and about the content of the conflict scenario. Words give meaning and set up paradigms for future behavior and decisions.
- Break the trap of decisions: What got you here to conflict isn’t going to get you there to resolution. The decisions, patterns, and behaviors that got you into the conflict you’re in today (and the ones you’ll be in tomorrow) have to be broken through self-examination.
- Break the gap: Being intentional about the outcomes you want to achieve through avoidance, accommodation, assertive confrontation, or any of the other choices for responses that you have in a conflict, is critical to avoiding the gap. That temporary pause, or “lull” in the conflict flow.
These tips seem obvious and easy, but if they were, we would be collectively performing them all the time, rather than stumbling through the narratives we’ve built. Ultimately, the way out of the narrative trap of conflict, takes having courage to take the steps in the first place.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org