Strategies and tools for finding good resolutions to conflicts in everyday life.

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Inspired by Prof. Dues published lectures, which are largely focused on finding “win-win” resolutions to arguments.

Conflict identification

What is a conflict? Key characteristics of a conflict are:

  • The conflicting parties are interdependent.
  • Parties differ in a point of view.
  • There’s a sense of resistance.

Adversary System

Coming from the ancient Greeks, this system involves an impartial 3rd party hearing out the arguments and deciding the resolution.

In order to win an argument with this system, you should:

  • Recognize the issue and the starting point for arguing it.
  • Identify a general rules and see how your situation fits against it.
  • Check your logic.
  • Check your opponents logic.

This system is pretty much how our world works. It’s the basis of democracy and the legal system. That said, it cannot be applied in general because it requires a trusted and impartial 3rd party, which is not always be available.

Perception

Conflicts arise due to differing perspectives. Understand your own perception of the issue, and also seek to understand it from the others perspective.

Have empathy; ask yourself “how does this feel for the other person?”. To help with this, imagine the issue as a physical thing that person is viewing through their own “lens”.

Understand that usually neither view reveals the truth of the issue, and oftentimes there is no correct answer. In order to achieve a win-win resolution, we cannot worry about who is objectively correct, but instead use a mutual understanding of each others perspectives to work it out.

Emotion

Treat emotions as “internal facts” and try to report them. Be careful to walk a safe middle line with respect to your emotions; it may be best to suppress them temporarily.

  • Calm down, try to think rationally.
  • Construct a good argument that considers your emotional point of view.
  • Identify when conflicting adversaries are being influenced by their emotions. Do not escalate.

Goals

To understand the root cause of the conflict, parties should be aware of their goals. These should be made transparent and used to help find win-win solutions (i.e. accomplishing both sets of goals).

Power

Parties that recognize each others equal power are most likely to find a good resolution.

  • If you feel underpowered, then reframe your mind set to understand the power you do have in this conflict. Then, make the other party aware of this power as you understand it.
  • If you feel overpowered, make yourself aware of the other parties power in the conflict and use that knowledge to reframe your mind set.

Basically, the best way to deal with power (or perceived influence) in the conflict is to remove it from play. Focus on dealing with emotions and achieving goals.

The following sections are inspired by Ray Dalio’s Principles.

Assessment

When looking at a conflicting perspective, assess the persons experience with respect to the issue at hand and contrast that to your own. If the opposition is more knowledgable then you should consider adopting their point of view.

Thoughtful Disagreement

Ultimately, it’s not always possible to find win-win resolutions, the best we may be able to achieve is “agreeing to disagree”. However, before resorting to this option, you should both thoughtfully reflect on the disagreement at hand:

  • Don’t try to convince the other that you are right.
  • Objectively attempt to find out which point of view is true.
  • Consider limiting each other to two-minute intervals so you can speak uninterrupted.

While carrying out this exercise, motivate yourself with fear that you may be wrong and focus on the question: “with my current view, what am I missing?”. It’s imperative to probe for understanding of the opposing perspective by asking questions, as you explore what’s true.

Once you’ve got a grip on the opposing perspective, you can test your understanding by describing it back to them. If they are on the same page then you know you’ve got it.

Once you both understand the other perspective, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a mutually respected third party to weight in.

Avoid reciting the same old points over and over. If you’ve tried the above process and start drifting back to your original arguments then it may be a good idea to “agree to disagree” (for now at least).

If instead you find yourself swayed by the opposing view, then your perspective is now more appropriately aligned with the truth, and you should take it as a win :)

Conclusion

It was pretty interesting studying conflicts and methods for resolving them. My favorite strategy was Ray Dalio’s “thoughtful disagreement”, which assumes there exists an absolute truth and seeks to find that truth by studying each perspective of the issue.

My key takeaways are:

  • Conflicting parties must work together.
  • Focus more on understanding perspectives than arguing.
  • Make emotions transparent but don’t let them take over.
  • Practice thoughtful disagreement before giving up.

And don’t forget to be nice :)

Written by

Python Data Engineer, MSc. Physics

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