A few years ago I was in a position to put my philosophy of conflict resolution to the test. It all unfolded when my husband of 25 years told me he wanted a divorce. Initially, I felt surprised--and then experienced mixed emotions from anger to sadness to relief.
What followed was a swift and amicable divorce. Remarkably, our divorce cost each of us a grand total of $62--which was to cover thirty minutes of time with our attorney to confirm that paperwork was filed correctly (Yes, we even shared the same attorney!).
How did we do it? We came to the decision very early on in the process that we would collaborate rather than compete. Our mutual agreement was to achieve the best outcome for our situation and hold a place of respect for one another. We also agreed to stay out of the courtroom and file our documents and paperwork utilizing online resources whenever possible. Throughout the process, our mantra was, "I need what you need, and we are both in this together." This may not be a common intention when resolving conflict, particularly when someone has felt deceived or on the losing end of a situation. However, there are effective methods that you can employ to resolve any form of dispute.
An eternal optimist, I always felt that our marriage would last forever. Even if that meant I was occasionally blind to the signposts that our life together had somewhere along the way taken a turn that was not recoverable. For irreconcilable reasons, it was time to move on. There is no question that the shock and emotional upheaval took its toll on me, and I spent plenty of time ruminating over what happened and how I might have done things differently. However, upon further reflection, I knew in my heart that ending our marriage was the right thing to do for both of us. I knew that we could simply not be the best expression of ourselves if we stayed in the marriage--yet I also felt that we would remain connected in some capacity. As the days and weeks passed, I came to realize that I had to face the situation grounded in compromise and respect.
The truth is, there are no victors in a conflict. In a personal estrangement, one or both parties may feel wounded and victimized. You might find it difficult to effectively initiate a conversation when there is a problem to be solved. Or perhaps you simply avoid addressing the situation, leading to resentment and ill will.
Facing a conflict in business commonly means competition--"I am going to win, and you are going to lose" or "I am right and you are wrong." Many people tend to jump in via attack-mode, escalating the situation and damaging the relationship.
Who can come out of either of those scenarios genuinely feeling like a winner?
Learning how to handle conflict is a crucial life skill that can be a challenge to master. We can all benefit from learning the art of heart-centered communication--which is simply, authentic communication that comes from a place of respect for self and others. When a heart-centered approach to conflict resolution is engaged, more often than not, it can make the difference between positive and negative outcomes.
Here are some takeaways to help resolve any conflict:
Live by the three golden rules of engagement
In any dialogue, there are two fundamental needs that must be met--the ego need and the practical need. The ego needs are: to be listened to, valued, appreciated, empathized with, involved, and empowered. The practical need refers to the obvious: the reason for having the discussion and focuses on the conflict at hand. To address both needs, employ the three golden rules of engagement:
- Listen and respond with empathy.
- Be involved. Ask for the other person's opinions, ideas and thoughts.
- Maintain and affirm a sense of pride and self-esteem.
As we processed the demise of our marriage and began the arduous task of dividing our finances and possessions, my ex-husband and I worked hard to implement these rules of engagement in our discussions. I am not saying it was always easy--and there were times when we could have easily fallen into a black hole of resentment and anger which would have only caused further suffering, ultimately prolonging the process. So we made a conscious commitment to treat each other fairly and deferentially.
There will inevitably be bumps along the way but in any conflict both parties must agree ahead of time to work out their differences from a place of compassion. This may seem like a tall order but here is what you can do:
Take personal responsibility and accountability for your part in the situation.
You cannot control what anyone else says or does, but you can control what you do and say. Admit to your part in the conflict by being straightforward and strive to be conciliatory. Remember to temper your interactions with respect.
Go for the win--on both sides.
Conflict resolution is often tainted by an inequitable outcome. Often, one party feels they must compromise to attain a working solution. Although this is positive and can result in a favorable outcome, it often leaves the accommodating party dissatisfied and feeling like they have "lost." The ideal situation is when both parties feel they have resolved the issue and have accomplished a "win." A problem will never be solved until both parties involved come to a place of full collaboration--thus keeping the relationship intact--or even improving it.
Remember to be grateful every day.
Conflicts can bring out the darker side of our character. It may sound cliché but the simple practice of gratitude has more power than you may think. When working through any conflict it can be very beneficial to create a daily gratitude list to help keep you in a state of positivity.
Look for the lessons.
Conflict is part of life--it is something we all try to avoid but at some point we all have to deal with it. Reflect on the lessons learned in each situation so that you do not become disillusioned by the experience, and you are able to move forward. In retrospect, you may discover that the conflict, struggle or issue you were compelled to face was a pivotal life lesson.
The original version of this article first appeared on Inc.com