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Once you've cleared the hurdle of initiating a conversation with your conflict partner, you have a choice. You can point fingers and dig yourself in deeper, or you can take the high road and commit to collaborative problem-solving. This means you're choosing to make every effort to move through the discovery phase of the conversation without assigning blame. To do this, you need to build trust and create an atmosphere of possibility. It's a very tall order, but if you commit to the bigger picture and practice, you will find your way.
I'll give you some guidelines for building trust that will help you create a safe environment for resolving any conflict. If things get heated, you have control of one thing: yourself. Pause, breathe, slow things down. When you resume, speak in a measured tone, even if your partner can't. They will likely match your conversation style unconsciously. The language of blame starts with you, he, or they. The language of responsibility begins with I.
For example, you might say, "I am really angry," as opposed to, "You make me really angry," or, "I am afraid I won't be heard," works better than, "You never listen to me." So, take personal responsibility. Active listening is really the crown jewel of conflict resolution. Let your conflict partner vent and give them time, ask them to let you rephrase uninterrupted what you're hearing. It's incredibly easy to forget, especially when temperatures run high.
So I recommend that you practice active listening in your everyday conversations. Listen without interruption and repeat what you hear. You may find that it transforms your relationships. It's tempting to dredge up every other incident that's ever occurred in the past. You can avoid the pull of what I call "kitchen sink" arguing by redirecting the conversation back to the present. You might say, "It seems like we are drifting off-topic, we were talking about missing deadlines, let's go back to that." Even when you are certain the other person is the wrongdoer, take responsibility for your part in the conflict; otherwise, you run the risk of staying hooked in the name-blame-claim loop.
No matter the issue, keep your focus on your commitment to a mutually-beneficial outcome. Repeating a stock phrase like, "I am sure we can solve this," will demonstrate your commitment and keep trust high. Remember, these are guidelines, not a paint-by-numbers process. No doubt you'll be bouncing back and forth between them as you need to throughout your conversation. At this point, you have a sturdy but hopeful beginning to the conflict resolution process, one that's hard on the issue and soft on the people.
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