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Five questions for managing conflict by being curious


Did you read something recently that made your spin because of how unjust it was? Have a chat recently that made you clench up because of how angry you got? Most of the time these perceived conflicts are just stories in our heads, and I, for one, am a world-class storyteller (in my head of course). The trick here is that it’s easy to believe you are right and hard to admit you might, actually, be a little bit wrong.

Next time you find yourself in conflict with someone, these questions might help you reconsider your approach.

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some which actually happened.”

Mark Twain

Awaken your curiosity

Going through the following questions the next time you aren’t sure how to react to a conflict you are facing:

  1. How does this person’s perspective make sense to them?
  2. What has caused this person to behave this way? Starting with the belief that everyone is a good person, what led to this behavior? What was the trigger?
  3. What “want” or “need” is driving this person? Think of the core human needs that are at risk: safety, belonging, etc.
  4. How am I contributing to the difficulty here? Remember, you cannot be in conflict unless you consent!
  5. What needs to change so that a useful dialogue can happen?

Reframe your reaction

Reframing your reaction will give you agency over what you can control and what you cannot.

Unhelpful
Avoid these false stories 😡
Helpful
Ask these questions instead 😀
I wish he would just shut up about this.What is he actually trying to say?
They are such idiots. They don’t care about me, just themselves.What is this important to them and why? How does this make sense to them?
If she just gave in, everything would be fine.What have I not noticed about this situation? What are my decisions to make?
Talking to him is a waste of time; he’s impossible.What is the main obstacle in our conversation right now? Why is it there?
What is wrong with her? How could she do this to me?What led her to take this action? What did she need?
This person just needs to…What can I do differently?

Another Perspective

In a similar vein, if a conflict has got you down and self-doubt is creeping in, try pairing this with Byron Katie’s The Four Questions. First, “isolate a statement for inquiry” and the ask the following:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

🗒 I came across this and other communication-related tips while reviewing the treasure troves of learning resources offered at Automattic.
I do work there and you can too. 😃

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