05/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Tear Down the Walls: How to Imagine Their Internal Conflict Story

The man who has no imagination has no wings. Muhammad Ali

When you are in conflict with another person, step back and imagine what that person's internal conflicts are.

Under stress, you are more likely to see the other person as offensive. Your fears fill the vacuum of their unseen motivation and mutate them into their diabolical intentions. To you, the other person is rigid and inflexible while you are open-minded and flexible.

However just as for you, more is going on beneath the surface for them. You will likely never know their internal conflict with certainty. Your assessment may be wrong. When you really know the other person you will have a lot more to go on.

Remember that another person has a positive intention. The external result may be extremely negative, but the underlying justification and rationalization is usually positive in the other person's mind. Focusing on their internal conflicts rather than their difficult external behavior gives you more constructive choices. Access the mental picture of that person as fuller than the one dimensional way they now appear to you.

For example, I remember letting a longtime business partner know that I had received a job offer from a client. I did so with a desire to be as honest and forthcoming with a longtime friend and colleague. He loudly accused me of "betrayal" and "disloyalty." He demanded I give a full report of any communication with the party and that no documents should be exchanged without his reviewing. I was angrier with him than I had ever been, having felt I had done nothing wrong and felt that I was being perceived unfairly. Only when I reflected on his history, one in which he had felt walked over by previous employees and partners, did I soften and recognize this was raising lingering conflicts for him. This helped in our ensuing conversation from my becoming ballistic and allowed us to talk through the situation. I still shared my frustration, but in a more a constructive way than I would have otherwise.

If you do not know the person as well, suspend dislike to imagine their inner conflict. Hold out the possibility of a struggle going on for the other person. What is the other person struggling with? What is their back-story? What are you triggering in the person? When you appreciate the fullness of their struggle and yours, your conflict management approach expands from one-dimensional to three dimensional.

The next post will focus on how to enter tense situations. Being prepared for difficult situations means not just knowing the issue, but being as relaxed and comfortable as possible.

To learn more about the importance of communication skills particularly in negotiation and conflict resolution, read about the solutions, results and publications Grande Lum has created at Accordence, Inc. For further discussion, contact Grande at

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