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

Tear Down the Walls: How to Move to Their Side

If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling. Joseph Addison

Visualize sitting next to your adversary and being fully empathetic to that person.

Resist the urge to define the other person as the opposite of you. The person you are dealing by definition is the Other. An adversarial relationship can grow instantly. One disagreement gets the ball rolling. What they do begins to become what you do not do. Who they are morphs into what you are not. Your identity starts to take on dimensions based on your antipathy for the other person. Finding common ground becomes increasingly difficult. Gaps in understanding the other person's motivation get filled with suspicion and paranoia.

Picture yourself on one side of the table talking to a person on the other side. See anger and hostility building between the two. Now see yourself getting up from your seat and around the table and sitting next to the person. The other person may resist you sitting next to them. You might not want them to sit next to you. A person who is angry at you pushes you away and emotionally wants to isolate themselves from you.

Reaching them figuratively means reaching across the chasm created by the defenses we build around ourselves. You are saying, "I am with you rather than against you." Figuratively moving to their side means showing deeper understanding of the other's attitude, personality and philosophy. Moving to their side requires a willingness to see the world differently.

When I worked with individuals with a high degree of hostility towards each other I tried whatever I could to get them to emphasize with each other. I remember a situation where I was mediating a labor-management dispute and the wife of a person on the management team had crossed the picket line. Union members bristled when he entered the room. Over time, I worked at having union members work with him in small joint labor-management groups where such folks gradually saw him as competent and trustworthy. He worked closely with a few union leaders, where he helped craft creative solutions and was true to his word.

Moving to their side does not condone their behavior or necessarily change your actions. Yet, if you truly want to bridge the gap between you and the person across from you, sitting alongside is still the place to start.

My next post will focus on taking responsibility rather than blame to transform conflict to collaboration.

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