If you’re like most people, you dread conflict. Your ears burn and you start to sweat just thinking about it. It’s a combat zone, where somebody wins and somebody loses. Somebody’s right, and somebody’s wrong. Maybe you avoid conflict, fearing hurt feelings, bruised egos and lost tempers. Or do you go at it like a blood sport, so focused on winning that you take out anyone in your path?

But you may have seen a few people who are able to handle conflict differently. They stay cool without stonewalling, With their guidance, hidden problems come to light. Innovative solutions develop to resolve issues that festered for years. These Conflict Masters even manage to turn a conflict into a pleasurable experience.

How do they do it?

They use the following 7 simple steps, and so can you.

1. Assume that others aren’t hell-bent on destroying all you hold dear.

Whenever you find yourself in a conflict, remind yourself that a logical reason must be driving the other person.

All human beings are trying to do one thing: meet their inborn needs. We must meet our needs to survive, and we will do anything to get these needs met, even violate our morals or cause harm. (Explains why people can do incredibly dumb or destructive things.)

The intent behind every action, then, is a positive: to get their needs met. It’s the exact thing you are trying to do, so how can you be upset about that?

This is not to say that what they are doing is right.  By starting with the assumption of positive intent, though, you give yourself a place of commonality and decency to start from, no matter how bad things seem.

2. Respectfully, shut your pie hole

Most of us spend our time in conflict trying to prove why we are right and trying to anticipate what the other person will say so we can refute it. This means we rarely listen, therefore we rarely understand what is really going on. So we rarely find long-term, empowering solutions.

We rehash the same conflicts over and over because they never get down to the core issue.

Save countless hours and reduce your stress by investing the time to seek understanding first.

3. Bust out your Sherlock hat.

Imagine that you are a detective.

What’s it like to be in their shoes? How has this issue affected their life? What makes things better or worse? What do they think started the problem? How would they want it resolved? How might their life improve if you could see things from their perspective?

Engage your thoughtful curiosity with one goal: to understand the other person’s world.

4. Get Zen-like.

It took me a while to understand what people meant by “your Center”, but I get it now. Your Center is a spot about two inches above your belly button. It is a source of great power, both physically and psychically.

When you listen from your head, your brain starts commenting and analyzing the correctness of the information. You don’t fully listen. When you listen from your heart, your emotions can get triggered, making you defensive so that you can’t fully understand the other person. And you don’t fully listen.

But when you listen from your Center, it allows you to simply absorb information without taking it personally, so you can fully listen.

Imagine that you are literally taking in the sound through your Center into your stomach so that you can digest them before you respond.

It’s an entirely new experience.

5. Like a good math student, go back and check your work.

Check to see if you understand them correctly, and use their words.

If they say, “I’m pissed that you ate all the donuts and left nothing for anyone else like you always do,” don’t tell them, “It sounds like you’re mad.”

No, “pissed” and “mad” aren’t the same thing.

Say, “So what I think I understand now is that you are pissed that I ate the donuts, and you feel that I always do things like that.” Then take that into your Center again. Don’t judge it; just absorb it. Something strange just might happen. You might begin to accept that this is how they feel, whether it’s right or not. It’s hard to fight against other people’s feelings or perceptions of the world.

What are you going to say? “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Who are you to tell me how I should feel about anything?

All that’s left to say is, “Ok, I understand that’s how you feel. If you’re open to it, I could share with you how I experienced this.”

6. Invite them to walk in your shoes (or stilettos).

Don’t try to tell them why you are justified — you are justified in feeling whatever you feel. That is not something anyone needs to defend. Instead, simply explain what you have experienced. You want to offer them the opportunity to see your world too. Use descriptive “I” statements, not accusatory “you” statements.

To continue the donut example, you could say, “I hear that you’re pissed I ate all the donuts. After working for eight hours and not eating, I ate all three of them without even thinking. I didn’t do it with malicious intent. It hurts to hear that you think I’m selfish. Is that what you really think of me?”

Isn’t that much better than, “Well, you didn’t make me anything to eat, and I was starving, so, yeah, I ate them. If you had thought of me for a change, I wouldn’t have eaten your three precious donuts.”

7. VOMP it out

VOMP is an acronym for a formula to help deal productively with conflict.

  • Voice your concerns/experience: “I ate all three donuts after working without eating anything else.”
  • Own your responsibility in the issue: “I didn’t clean up or leave any donuts for you.”
  • eMpathize with the other person: “I understand that you were looking forward to one of those donuts, and it made you feel like I don’t think about you.”
  • Plan for what will change in the future: “I want to find ways to make sure you know how much I love and appreciate you. Even if I eat everything in the house, I want you to know I think of you, would do anything for you, and that I am grateful for all you do for me. What could I do differently to make that real for you?”  Then negotiate a specific, actionable plan that will work for both parties.

8. Remember you aren’t Chicken Little and the sky is not falling

I want the lights on, and you want the lights off. If we both really want it our way, a conflict will arise.

What does that mean? Does it mean we hate each other, that we have a bad relationship, that you have commitment issues, that I am selfish, that secretly everyone’s been wanting the lights off my entire life and that’s why previous relationships haven’t worked out?

No, it means we want different things at the same time. That’s all conflict means.

Be very careful not to make disempowering and destructive meanings that will lead to more pain and create more conflict later.

Why The Zen Master Smiles Through The Storm

You need not fear the storm. It is what brings the rainbow.

For so long, you have been confused, thinking conflict is to be feared, a sign that something has gone wrong. The Master smiles knowing that here lies the remedy to the illness.

Conflict is a cleansing, allowing the misunderstandings and hurt to come to light. So now you can smile too, knowing that conflict offers an opportunity for healing to unfold. Don’t worry that you may not do all these steps right. You will have many chances to practice. Like any practice, you will see the transformation little by little until one day you will smile.

What is a conflict you have been avoiding? Will your life get any better by letting it fester? How good will it feel to clean out the wound? Your ascension to mastery starts with one conversation.

Try these words: “Do you have some time to talk?”

Featured photo credit: zenonline via flickr.com

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