This November brings a rather historic presidential run in the U.S. For the past year, it’s been impossible not to turn on the radio or TV or read the paper without hearing acerbic, sarcastic, and sometimes, hateful remarks from people who support either and all candidates. Civility seems to be all but gone, replaced by a contest of who can insult, blame, and hate the loudest and longest. Public discourse and disagreement are a cornerstone of democracy, yet when productive conflict goes in the way of hate, then the point of conflict to push for change becomes lost. After this election, whoever ends up in the White House, the hard work begins for an entire country to come together. Yet after any conflict, particularly extended conflict, is not easily resolved. We often praise diversity, but forget to offer tools in how to actually bring differences together. Political, professional, or personal, conflict is created and sustained by humans, and we as humans are emotional creatures, no matter how logical we think we are. The key for reconciliation and unification is not to get rid of all disagreements and differences, for multiple perspectives are healthy for growth. The key is us. The key is that each of us do our small part to reach out to the “other,” train our minds not to excuse emotional reactions based on fear for logic, and pause and listen.

The Third Side

Negotiation expert William Ury expounds on his “Getting to Yes” work with a great talk about moving from no to yes in any agreement – even the most seemingly intractable. He notes how critical it is to remind each side what’s really at stake, to reframe from “hostility to hospitality,” and the power of small steps. There is never only two sides of a story, there is always a third, and we must be willing to step outside our own selfish wants and see things from the third side to get to a place of meaningful yes.

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”

~ Margaret Heffernan

Yes, and….
  1. Pause the immediacy

So many unnecessary conflicts get escalated when we forget to simply pause. We allow our amygdala to take over when we feel threatened – physically or emotionally or egotistically – and we react. These reactions are often borne out of fear, and from fear, more negativity arises. When we are able to pause and breathe, we are able to stop our brains from simple reaction and oftentimes, diffuse the situation before it even becomes a situation.

  1. Reframe the environment

Whether we are having a disagreement at work or at home, we tend to recycle the same arguments and end up wasting time and energy talking in circles. We find ourselves in the same place, the same chair, the same stance. We find ourselves seeing the other person as our enemy, frenemy, or at least, the obstacle to our happiness. When we can reframe our approach and environment, things take on a different light. Studies show that in negotiations, the simple act of sitting next to someone rather than across the table can ease the process for a win-win. Taking a walk outside makes a difference and stimulates different, more positive receptors in our brains. When we approach the situation not as a “I win-you lose” to a “How can we resolve this together,” the process is also smoother and more successful for all. The conflict hasn’t change – just the environment and approach.

  1. Think big picture

Even if this seems like a “one-and-done” conflict, the reality is to get to a more satisfying reconciliation and smoother process, keeping in the mind what’s really at stake

and what the core issue is helps us to step out of the nitty gritty. This helps us to not get caught in the minor details that derail true resolution, but reminds us what each side really want and allows for more creative solutions.

4. Agree to disagree
Perhaps it is an overused adage, but it is still most appropriate. Disagreements and arguments and conflicts are not bad in themselves. It is how we react that can lead to negativity. Conflict can be healthy for innovation and progress. It is important to allow conflict to happen, and while neither side has to agree on everything, the key is to acknowledge and honor differences to come to a mostly satisfying reconciliation of differences.

  1. Take the third side

Psychologist Edward de Bono had spoken about wearing “different hats” to explore any problem. For example, one person would wear the hat of the skeptic, another the hat of the optimist. By having different people examine the same issue from different angles, there can be a more balanced view, unveiling of core issues, and eventual reconciliation. In a similar way, when we can take that third perspective – outside of you vs. me – we can begin to see the conflict in a different light. While mediators often play this role, when we can do the same, we are that much closer to a healthful reconciliation.