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(Third in a series on “How to LEAD Your Way Through Conflict”)

After you have LISTENED–thoroughly, deeply, with empathy, compassion, and a sincere desire to understand–now you’re ready to EXPLORE what’s really beneath the surface of your conflict–and how you might move forward.

There are three areas you might want to explore…

Explore the Deeper Issues:

If you happen to see an iceberg floating in the sea, you’re only seeing 10% of what’s really there. 90% of an iceberg is beneath the surface.

In the same way, it’s highly possible that 90% of your conflict is not the surface-level thing you started arguing about, but the deeper issues that lie beneath the surface.

For example: A husband and wife are arguing about a recent purchase that one of them made. It’s one of the most common marital arguments. On the surface it’s a disagreement about how money should be spent.

But what are the deeper issues that lie beneath the surface?

Maybe the husband grew up in a family that struggled economically, and for him, this is a discussion about SECURITY and SAFETY. His deeper issue is FEAR OF SCARCITY.

Maybe the wife interprets her husband’s frugality as a statement about whether or not she is valued. For her this is a discussion about CARING and COMMITMENT. Her deeper issue is FEAR OF REJECTION.

No wonder this simple disagreement has turned into a full-blown conflict!

These deeper issues are not petty. Uncovering them does two things:

  1. It helps you see what the conflict is really about.
  2. It helps you discover some possibilities for moving forward.

So what’s really behind the conflict you’re experiencing? What are the deeper issues that lie beneath the surface?

Explore Positions and Interests:

This is huge.

Your position is your demand. It’s what you say you want.

Your interests are the reasons, values, desires, or needs behind the demand.

The classic illustration is the story of two children fighting over the last orange.

Each child’s position is “I want the orange.” But when they explore the interests behind the position, they discover that one child wants the peel (for a science project), and the other wants the juice.

They can both have what they want!

Admittedly, the conflict you are dealing with may not be resolved this easily. But the fact remains that by exploring the interests behind the positions (the “why” behind the “what”), you may discover that you and the other party have more in common than you think.

And you may find that there are ways to meet your interests even if you can’t satisfy your positions.

Explore Options:

Once you understand what it is that you and the other party are really after — the deeper issue beneath the surface, and the interests behind the positions– now you’re ready to brainstorm some options for moving forward.

I recommend actually getting out a piece of paper, or moving to a whiteboard, and compiling a list of possible solutions.

Write down every crazy idea that comes to mind. Sometimes a crazy idea leads to a really a good one.

Then work with the other party to narrow down the list to some options that both of you are actually willing to try.

And that leads to the third step in this model, which I will discuss tomorrow…