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When we are in the middle of an argument, we often don't know why or how we even got there because so many arguments begin over trifles. The real issue is buried underneath. So let's focus on the first step in the resolution roadmap, identifying the issues. Let's say Jack is under pressure at work. He has been missing deadlines and doing shoddy work. He's afraid that Heather will fire him if he doesn't get his act together. Add to that the fact that he sees Heather as hypercritical and hovering.
So, how did Jack and Heather move from avoidance and blame to, "Houston, we have a problem?" This classic line from the movie Apollo 13 was not phrased, "Houston, you have a problem." If it had, things would have turned out much more dire than they did for everyone. When we are in a blaming state of mind, acknowledging the conflict and being willing to talk about it may be far more difficult than all of the other steps combined. So pointing fingers keeps you in an endless cycle of blame and nowhere near uncovering the real issue.
To help you through this hurdle, you can practice doing three very evolved tasks before you even sit down at the resolution table. First, identify the nature of the disagreement. Is it relational, something having to do with your relationship? Or is it substantive, a disagreement about content or process? Or is it perceptual, a disagreement about how you are viewing a situation? Second, investigate your own interests.
If you identify that your disagreement is over process, how something gets done, you must also identify what values, preferences, or needs you perceive are being thwarted. Once you've worked through the first two tasks, the third task is to ask for a conversation with your conflict partner. Schedule it so you have plenty of time to get to agreement somewhere face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice, with plenty of privacy. Remember, cognitive biases cloud our judgment.
Heather doesn't know if Jack's shoes are too tight and making him testy, or whether he is buried in administrative work and needs an assistant. If Heather assumes anything, it should be that Jack's actions are not directed at her personally, that's key. So once you are at the table, your first task is to identify your conflict partner's interests. So you need to do two things: one, listen. Hear your partner out, even if you think you already understand their perspective, listen.
If you listen without interjection and counterpoint, very often you'll discover a slice of information that helps solve the entire issue. Two, confirm your understanding by paraphrasing or restating what your conflict partner says. If you are unclear, say so, and keep at it until you are clear. All right, we've just covered what is for many people the most difficult piece of the conflict equation, beginning. So gather your courage and choose to be the one who takes the first step towards resolution.
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