Several weeks ago I began writing a series of articles on the topic of conflict resolution. As an initial starting point, I commented that those who are willing to face and resolve conflict are “Peace-Makers;” whereas those who avoid conflict (and side-step the difficulty of working through the conflict) could be categorized as “peace-keepers” - because the latter group would rather keep the “virtual peace” (which is in contrast to actually resolving the underlying issues that created the conflict).
So far in the discussion I have defined three types of conflict: conflicts of emotion, conflicts of ideas, and conflicts of values. Last week we briefly explored conflicts of emotion and a few strategies to initiate a path toward resolution. This week I examine “conflict of ideas” and provide a few starting points to use when seeking to resolve such differences.
A conflict of ideas occurs when two (or more) people have different thoughts and/or information about a topic of importance to them. The key word here is “ideas” which are usually a mixture of opinions, assumptions, and data – facts – that are not in alignment between the parties involved.
Several keys useful to resolution with a conflict of ideas are the following: listen to each person’s set of ideas, separate fact from assumptions, clarify the factual points of agreement, and set aside or correct false assumptions.
Listen: As is true with conflicts of emotion, it is important when working through conflicts of ideas to listen in a manner that each person will believe they have been - and are - being heard. When asking questions, it is most helpful to listen for facts and to seek to separate facts from assumptions. Sometimes it is helpful to make two columns on a sheet of paper and take notes placing the facts in one column and assumptions in the other.
Separate Facts from Assumptions: After listening carefully, we can then work interactively with each party to distill the information into the two distinct categories of facts and assumptions. If notes were taken as suggested above, use them to play back each data point that was shared, placing each one - by agreement - into either the “fact” or “assumption” category. Pace is important; work slowly enough to gain agreement on each data point regarding into which category it belongs.
Clarify the Factual Points of Agreement: At this step, we can begin to work together with both parties to make a singular list of facts about which there is indisputable and mutual agreement. In other words, facts are facts – find the ones about which everyone agrees and establish that agreement between the parties.
Set Aside or Correct False Assumptions: Lastly, gain agreement that assumptions are invalid - because they cannot be factually supported. Using that premise, gain agreement that each of those involved in the process will set aside assumptions. In some cases of course, an assumption can be corrected by providing accurate information, in which case the new and correct fact(s) can be included in the list drawn up in the previous step. In short, all assumptions are either corrected or set aside by all invoved.
Depending on the nature and intensity of the situation, this may well take more than one session. But the key to resolution is the same: Patiently lead those involved to a place where they listen, focus on facts, and dismiss false assumptions. Doing so can lead to a new level of understanding and acceptance and, most importantly, conflict resolution.