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Conflict is simply the perception that your needs or preferences can't be met at the same time as someone else. It may be because of scarce resources, different values, or the need to serve different parties or goals. If you think back to your most recent disagreement, you may have framed it as a contest between right and wrong. So, instead of potentially spiraling into name-calling, let's look at the five strategies for framing a problem in a more optimistic light.
Again, the objective is to focus on being soft on the people but hard on the problem. The first strategy is to move from fighting to problem-solving. If you're in a full-blown argument, use self- management to pause, take a deep breath, and lower your voice. Then ask your conflict partner to take a step back from the fight and see the task at hand as a problem-solving session. The second reframing strategy is to move from being right to being happy.
If your conflict partner is stuck on being right, shift the focus to the interest you are both trying to serve. You might even make a list of what you're both trying to accomplish and then see whether any of those goals overlap. Follow that with ideas or actions that can help you reach those goals. The third strategy is to shift from uncooperative to cooperative. Again, somebody in the dispute has to pull back and focus on the bigger picture. That means you, because you are the only person whose behavior you can control.
If your partner is digging in their heels, ask diagnostic questions to bring them back into cooperation. You can say something like, "It looks like we hit a wall, help me understand what happened." If your conflict partner is willing to reengage, then you'll discover something that will help you reframe the issue and give you an opportunity to brainstorm solutions, solutions that are good for both of you. The fourth strategy is to shift from potential gain to potential loss.
This sounds crazy, but framing the dispute as a lose-lose proposition resolves more fights than framing a proposed solution as win-win. For example, the potential of losing $10,000 is a bigger motivator than the potential of making $10,000. We don't want to lose what we already have. The final strategy is to move from past to future. We all get hung up on the past, but trying to get agreement on what happened in the past is nearly always impossible.
If you did or said something that was offensive, apologize and make amends by agreeing to be a better communicator in the future, starting right now. So, to defuse an active dispute that's come to focus more on the people that on the problem, reframe the problem. I've included a worksheet in the exercise files for you to try your hand at reframing. Developing the skill will encourage you and your conflict partner to search for fresh solutions to old problems, move from anger to understanding, and shift from victimization to empowerment.
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