08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to be Your Own Mediator: It's Me Not You

"We have met the enemy and it is us"-- Walt Kelly

Take responsibility rather than blame to transform conflict to collaboration.

The walls go up in all sorts of situations with anyone from co-workers to strangers to family members. The wall rises unknowingly. Without realizing it you attribute blame and move on while the situation remains abysmal. Identify your contribution to the conflict. By accepting your part and then taking responsibility, you give yourself the best chance possible for getting out of conflict.

This disclosure defuses the situation, because you are accepting responsibility. You recognize the other person's contribution more accurately, so you take their words less personally. The other person may reciprocate and share their accountability. Even without explicit acceptance, self-knowledge keeps you on the road to clarity rather than the detour to derailment. Identify your own contribution to clear the mess of blaming out more quickly.

Reading this blog with the sole goal of getting the other person to be rational would be a lost cause. To do so is to externalize the other person as the problem rather than seeing conflict as your learning opportunity. Shifting the focus onto yourself means enhancing your individual responsibility in any situation.

When I have worked with parties in a conflict, I constantly tried to find ways to get the individuals to see beyond their own hurt and become more proactive. Over the years, I have seen how an entire conflict shifts when this happens. I remember a specific situation, in which a woman had a major conflict with her older sister. The mother gave a ring to the older sister that the woman felt she deserved. For five years whenever they talked about this, they got angry and blamed each other. With this advice in mind, the woman approached the situation anew by taking responsibility for her own words and reactions. This time within five minutes, the conversation was much calmer and they realized that the older sister just wanted the gemstone, while the woman wanted the ring itself and could care less about the diamond. Before they had each assumed the other wanted the whole ring. By approaching the situation with self-responsibility, the woman dramatically changed the tone and outcome of the conversation.

What you take ownership of is your approach to others. I am advocating flipping the switch and see what happens. Watch your own accountability in all your relationships. See every interaction as a learning opportunity for how you approach others. What is the first thing you say to another person with whom you are in conflict? Can you put your own ego aside and say something constructive? You may find yourself getting dramatically different reactions because you took charge.

My next post will focus on balancing empathy and assertiveness.

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.
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