Interpersonally competent people resolve conflict in a positive manner. No matter how interpersonally competent you are, or how easy going you are, you will inevitably find yourself in conflict. People will not always agree with you, and you will not always agree with others.
My favorite method for dealing with conflict is counter intuitive. By definition, conflict is a state of disagreement. When I’m in conflict with someone however, instead of focusing on where we disagree, I focus on where we agree.
This is a great way to not only resolve conflict positively, it helps strengthen relationships. And, as we all know, conflict often leads to a deterioration of relationships. So to me this approach is a no brainer. First, you get to resolve conflict positively. Second, you strengthen your relationships.
I look for any small point of agreement and then try to build on it. I find that it is easier to reach a larger agreement when I build from a point of small agreement, rather than attempting to tear down the other person’s points with which I don’t agree.
Most people don’t do this. They get caught up in proving their point. They hold on to it more strongly when someone else attacks it. If you turn around the discussion and say, “Let’s focus where we agree, and see if we can build something from there,” you are making the situation less personal. Now the two of you are working together to figure out a mutually agreeable solution to your disagreement. You’re not tearing down one another’s arguments just to get your way. Try this. It works.
President Obama demonstrated this in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. As he was winding up his talk, he said…
“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.
And if we do — if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis, if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity, if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, ‘something worthy to be remembered.’ Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”
Regardless of your political views, the President is right on with this one. When you come together with the people with whom you are in conflict by identifying some small point on which you agree, you are putting yourself in the position to begin building a resolution to the conflict – one that is likely to better than either side’s opening position. And, by working together, you’ll be strengthening your relationship. This will facilitate even more effective conflict resolution down the road. Look for common ground. When you find it, build on it. You’ll find that this is a great way to resolve conflict in a manner than enhances, not destroys relationships.