5 Ways to Deal With Conflict Effectively

How to activate empathy and be part of the solution.

With self-awareness and a dash of courage, it is possible to help change the trajectory of any heated conflict:

1. Resist the urge to ‘caricature’ the other side

When in a heightened state of fear, anger or opposition, it is completely natural to start viewing the Other as totally, completely and utterly bad. It doesn’t sit well with any of us that someone we do not respect, like, nor agree with can have anyredeeming features. Sadly, this only emboldens our own confirmation bias and undermines the ability to work toward sustainable solutions.

Whenever you can, keep your mind open and your empathy active by working on the 5% Principal: understand that, although you may oppose up to 95% of what the Other says, you will find 5% of what they say is actually of value to you. Look for these nuggets of agreement in every interaction.

2. Be prepared to question your side of the story

It feels wonderful — oh, so easy and refreshing — when the people around us are echoing our thoughts, beliefs and opinions. It can make us feel validated, understood and (most importantly) right in what we believe. But here’s the truth — your brain doesn’t want to be confronted with new points of view. It doesn’t want to burn new neural pathways or embark on deep introspection about all you have come to hold true.

Therefore, the 5% Principal is equally as vital when seeking support or gathering fuel for your side of the conflict. Just because something feels easy to accept, it doesn’t mean it’s true, real or helpful. It just means it resonates with your prior beliefs. Always look for the 5% of information from allies that you can dismiss as untrue, unfair or unhelpful in your quest for a solution.

3. Take some time out

It is believed that the average human has up to 60,000 thoughts per day, and that around 70% of them are negative. Absorbing yourself in a conflict is only going to increase the amount of adrenaline and cortisol in your body — the stress hormones — and deepen this insidious cognitive pattern.

Be gentle on you and gift yourself time out from any ongoing conflict. Switch off the news, go on holiday, spend time in nature, meditate, laugh, play and smile. Not only will this increase your sense of well being, it will clear your mind and enhance your ability to devise inspired and creative solutions.

4. Only take responsibility for what’s yours

Human beings can be complicated, messy creatures and heated debates are a prime opportunity for humans to display a full spectrum of confusing, conflicting and confronting behavior.

It is not your job (repeat: Not. Your. Job) to judge or condemn others’ actions, reactions or behavior during times of conflict. And neither is it your responsibility to mend them, save them, or show them the error of their ways. Your sole responsibility is to ensure that you are being the best version of You that you can be, and that you are conducting yourself in a manner that you can, and will be, proud of. In other words …

5. Be the “grown up in the room”

In any confrontation, those involved (and those on the sideline) are always looking for the a**hole in the situation. Don’t give anyone reason to suspect it’s you.

Using the tools above, attempt to be balanced, reasonable and careful in your responses, and always give credit where credit is due. Try as often as you can to be the example; recognize commonalities, understand the core issues and stand your ground whilst taking a broader view of the issues and myriad points of view.

It’s never easy to take the high road in heated and hurtful situations. So many of our reactions and beliefs are deeply unconscious that it is inevitable we will sometimes fall prey to impulsive and instinctive desires to fight, hurt, lash out. But in each moment you are able to master anger and fear — every time you are able to activate your empathy — know that you are turning the tide. In those moments, you are part of the solution.

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