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Tear Down the Walls: How to Bring Curiosity into the Mix

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Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be. -- W. H. Auden

Look at your difficult relationships with fresh eyes to open new possibilities.

Whether interacting with a lifelong acquaintance or a total stranger you can say to yourself, "I know what that person is going to say" or "I know where this conversation is going." Over time, your interactions resemble scenes from the movie Groundhog Day, where the main character played by Bill Murray keeps reliving the same exact day over and over again. When you perceive yourself having the exact same conversation repeatedly, you can unwittingly fall into an adversarial dynamic.

Experience and knowledge can surprisingly lead you down the conflict spiral. On the one hand, experience can breed comfort and success, yet, it is wisdom that offers sophistication in managing difficult situations. Generally speaking, we revere experts in any field who, with a minimum of clues, can give accurate diagnoses and solutions instantly. However, the more expert you become, the more likely you filter out nonconforming data.

After sizing up the situation, you quickly see what you need and then leap to your conclusions. When everything becomes old hat in tough interactions with another person, the conclusions stay the same. You can unconsciously drive the interaction to conflict and not realize your role in the process. You become unaware and cannot accurately gauge how the other person perceives you.

One of the best attributes of a mediator is that they bring that outsider perspective to a conflict. As a mediator, I remember the power of asking the parties questions they would not ask each other. I asked parties in labor-management disputes why they chose to work at the organization, what they like about where they work and what were their worst times. The process humanizes warring individuals to each other. They listened to each other more intently than they may have ever done so. Curiosity led to openness. Labor representatives then agreed to allow management more flexibility in offering bonus compensation while management agreed to provide more money for an important initiative.

In truth, anything a mediator can do, individuals can do on their own. Observe with fresh eyes, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, to open up what seems to be exactly the same as it has always been. Bring in curiosity to a routine interaction to bring new energy to the people, the discussion and the outcomes. Ask about the other person's hobbies and interests. Inquire to a side of that person about which you know nothing. Where there appeared to be no choice, choice gradually unfolds.

Next week, I will build on this idea of bringing curiosity into the mix, by focusing on how to see everyday conflicts as cross-cultural situations.

To learn more about developing effective communication skills which lay the groundwork for positive relationships in place of adversarial interactions, discover the resources, solutions, and partnerships Grande Lum has created at Accordence, Inc.

For further discussion, contact Grande at

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