Conflict arises because one or both people are not getting their needs met, Dr. Daniel Friedland tells us in his wonderful book Leading Well from Within. “We may feel unheard, unsafe, or uncared for regarding what is truly important to us.”
Yesterday, we looked at how a father rebuilt his relationship with his son.
How did he do it?
It’s not complicated. It’s not high-level math. The dad began by asking questions. Of his son. And himself.
Whether we are attempting to resolve a conflict or strengthen an already strong relationship, Danny tells us the answer is the same: First, ask better questions. Next, listen carefully for the answers. And then apply the answers and take effective action.
“This process can help [us] make the shift from reactivity to creativity in [our] interactions with others,” Danny writes. Doing so allows us to establish safety, trust, and a greater sense of connection as we seek agreement and understanding.
Where do we start?
We ask questions silently or journal our answers to gain deeper insights into what we are thinking and feeling. Our goal is to recognize rather than react to the reactivity of others. We aim to pause and understand our triggers. Then, we can clarify what is most important and focus on the desired outcome.
If we know in advance we are to have a critical conversation with a loved one or colleague, we can prepare and prime ourselves. Other times, situations arise quickly, and our goal is to pause in the moment rather than to react.
At the core of this mindset is the ability to ask ourselves questions. What is triggering me? What is triggering the other person? What are my sensations, thoughts, and feelings? How can I most objectively see what happened? What are my beliefs about what happened? What are the other person’s beliefs around what happened? Is my belief really true? Why is it important to us to resolve this conflict? How could I view things differently to help resolve the conflict?
What is truly important in this situation? What is truly important to the other person in this situation? What can I do to meet the specific needs of the other person?
How can I demonstrate an openness and willingness to listen with empathy so the other person can feel safe with me? How can I better express myself with my tone and body language that allows the other person to feel heard? How can I address facts and behaviors in ways that the other person does not feel blamed, labeled, judged, or criticized?
How can I best ask for forgiveness, if this is warranted? Or, perhaps: How can I accept an apology and extend forgiveness?
Asking questions like these not only helps us better understand ourselves, but we can also use them as a guide to more fully understand the other person’s perspective.
And, when we fall short, we aim to recognize our reactivity and reestablish connection. Danny, who passed away earlier this year from cancer, would tell his sons, “The most important thing in our relationship is not being ‘perfect’ with each other but being ‘real’ and trusting that if we get into conflict, we have these skills to ‘make the turn’ from reactivity to creativity to make up.”
Reflection: Is there a person or situation in my life where I could experiment with Danny’s approach of asking questions?
Action: Do it.