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At the heart of conflict resolution is a technique called Diagnostic Questions. Diagnostic Questions are open-ended, usually starting with words like who, what, when, where, why, or how, or phrases like "tell me more about" or, "How can I understand this better?" Make no mistake, asking diagnostic questions is your default go-to, first resort/last resort, I am stuck and I don't know where to go strategy. Asking diagnostic questions will help you understand the issues from your conflict partner's perspective and discover what their needs and preferences and goals are.
This will also save you when you get stuck in conflict quicksand, and here's why. In the absence of facts and information, we tend to mind-read and make assumptions, or worse we try to convince people to do something they don't want to do. But if you're committed to finding durable mutually-satisfying resolutions, asking diagnostic questions helps you come from a place of curiosity. You'll gain clarity and guide the conversation toward positive next steps. I'll give you a couple of examples of how a statement or an assumption can be turned into a question.
First, the assumption: Dave put you up to this...I knew it. Now the open-ended question: Who else has an interest in this issue? Here's another one: Your idea will have a terrible impact on customer service. And now reframed: Who might be harmed as a result of this idea? I want to warn you about the use of the question why, even though it's great for getting to the heart of any matter, like why did this happen, or why do you need that? Why relies heavily on the tone of your voice and can easily be interpreted as judgment or accusation.
Listen, why did this happen? Why do you need that? If you are on delicate ground, you don't want to do anything that will send you back into the quicksand. Instead, see if you can substitute why with what or how questions. Using the example above, "Why do you need that?" could be rephrased as, "How will this help you?" To help you master this vital skill, take a look in your exercise files for a list of diagnostic questions and an exercise for turning statements into questions.
And if you get stuck, try this little trick. Put your lips in the shape of a W and let who, what, when, where, and why naturally follow.
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