Our perceptions color the way we see the world. That’s true even when we’re in the middle of a conflict that stirs up our emotions. As powerful as our perceptions may be, we sometimes fail to notice that they exist at all. Understanding that our initial perceptions are always biased is an important secret to conflict resolution. Only by bringing our perceptions out into the open can we see them for what they are. Then, we can decide if we want to keep them or change them. See if you can spot any of your own habits in these common viewpoints. It’s the first step in viewing conflicts in a way that promotes longer lasting resolutions.
“Perceptions about people can be powerful. They can also be powerfully wrong.” – Craig Dresang
Changing the Way You See Your Conflicts
- Focus on the present. Put aside old resentments. Forget that your roommate ate your sandwich last summer.
- Define the major issues. It’s easy to attribute your irritations to incorrect causes. Ensure that you and your partner are disagreeing about the situation at hand. Otherwise, it may be masking a deeper issue.
- Seek common ground. Shift your attention to your shared objectives. You both want the bathroom to look nicer, whether that means new faucets or replacing the whole sink.
- Distinguish between needs and wants. Before you started kindergarten, you probably figured out that needs take priority over wants. That strategy may have gotten you extra bedtime stories and a fancier bike when you were a child. As an adult, it’s better to be precise so you know where you can negotiate.
- Break things down. Tackle complex projects one step at a time. A meeting about revising time sheets will be more effective than trying to fix the entire company in an hour.
- Establish priorities. Separate essential tasks from things you can come back to another time. As long as your teen daughter is getting the best grades she can, you can live with an unmade bed.
- Generate options. Let go of demands and ultimatums. Work together to propose alternatives you can both live with. The best solutions make everyone involved feel like they gained something of value.
Changing the Way You See Each Other
- Hold yourself accountable. Be honest about your part in the conflict. You’ll feel more motivated to cooperate and have a better sense of where to begin the discussion.
- Consider your overall relationship. Place the conflict in the context of your whole relationship. A lifelong friendship matters more than agreeing on the same school board candidate.
- Remember positive qualities. Reflect on what you like about the person you’re in conflict with. Think about your coworker’s good work ethic, even if she chews her gum loudly.
- Listen with an open mind. Put aside what you have to say for the moment and just listen. Ask questions to gather further information. Restate key points to ensure you’re on the same page.
- Acknowledge sensitive issues. We all have subjects, such as political or religious topics, that trigger strong feelings. Acknowledge these issues without getting into a conflict.
- Switch places. The best way to understand another person’s position is to imagine yourself in their shoes. Respect their needs and opinions. You can try to understand someone, even if you still disagree on some points. Avoid telling people to calm down. If you wouldn’t like someone to say it to you, then refrain from saying it to others.
Conflicts are an unavoidable part of life. They teach us about ourselves and others. They also strengthen our relationships by testing them. Clarifying our perceptions is an important secret to conflict resolution we can all learn so we can manage our relationships more effectively.