Dealing with Conflict: the Problem is the Problem

Tobias Rodrigues

This is a guest post by Tobias Rodriguez. Tobias runs seminars on Conflict Management and is a leading member of Toastmasters in Barcelona. Follow him on twitter [twitter-follow screen_name=’conflictmentor’] or check out his blog.

An ancient Greek storyteller, called Aesop, said: An Eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it. Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the shaft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes. “Alas!” it cried, as it died.

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction

The stories we tell ourselves shape our conflicts

The moral of Aesop’s fable is equally true when it comes to conflicts: We often give conflicts the means for our own frustration and breakdown. How? With the stories we tell ourselves about the situation, the other person and especially ourselves. For instance, we often surrender to the impulse of telling ourselves that certain situations will never change, that certain people are hopeless and that we ourselves don’t have what it takes to make it work. This means that, like in Aesop’s fable, we are giving the conflict the power to control us, and thus setting ourselves up for a breakdown. It means, we are preparing ourselves to interact with someone who is hopeless (whether he or she is or not). It means, we are determining that whatever efforts we make, we are intrinsically bond to be a slave to our own inability. With this mindset, the kind of results we can expect is rather obvious!

Voltaire said that common sense is not so common. This is a great example. We know that if we don’t believe in ourselves, there is no chance of achieving our goals. And yet, when we’re dealing with conflicts, the stories we tell ourselves often carry the moral “whatever you do, this is going nowhere.”

Let’s change that! The following are the three stories you can choose to tell yourself when you’re in a conflict. Using these stories, you’ll become empowered to see the conflict in a new light, stop perceiving the other person as fierce enemy, and recognize within yourself the skills and tools to manage the situation.

A conflict is an encounter of apparently incompatible forces

This is my definition of a conflict and I highly recommend it. A definition establishes the meaning of a specified thing. And positive definitions mean positive meanings. Thus, a positive definition of conflict is crucial for effective management. Among other things, this definition does two positive things for you:

  • it frames the conflict in terms of “compatibility / incompatibly,” instead of the more common “right or wrong” and “good or bad.” These latter terms are much more rigid to work with, because they are profoundly imbedded in us, while differing to some extent from person to person.
  • it places the focus on what appears to be (“apparently”), thus making the conflict a joint challenge instead of a rival fight: “Let’s see if these forces are in fact compatible or not.”

“The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem” — Michael White

This is also a fantastic story! Imagining that a person is the problem that needs fixing is a risky business, because to fix the problem you’ll need to change the person, and… good luck with that! (I find that people don’t tend to change that easily.) On the other hand, if we look at the conflict as a third party, as an independent object, as a “thing” with a life of its own, we can focus on understanding what effects the conflict has caused on our lives, and how we feel about that. The end result is that the recurring language of blaming and guilt, accusing and shame, criticizing and defensiveness will disappear! New air will invade our minds and enable new understandings.

Conflicts mean we care

This is perhaps the best story of the three, and the most enigmatic. It’s true that some people sometimes do wrong things for the wrong reasons on purpose. That is sometimes. If you take a good look at a good part of the conflicts you experience, you’ll discover otherwise. We’ll see that for some reason or another, we get into conflicts because we care and because the other party also cares. At some fundamental level, there is interest and concern, which means that we are not insignificant to the other person. On the contrary, conflicts mean you are that important to other person that he or she is willing to struggle with you for some good (think about: you would struggle with someone if they were insignificant to you?). And this is a whole new story, because it lets you acknowledge what you have in common and how much you both value it. A whole new frame for a conversation, I would say…

Just like Aesop’s story has come a long way to positively shape our lives, the positive stories we tell ourselves are the glue that keep our dream of happiness together.

Lying takes 2 People

Sorry, gave wrong url in the email… here is the correct link for the 9 Steps to Becoming a Public Speaking Expert 

Are you being lied to?

Are you being lied to?  Yes. Often.

We Enjoy Lies. When we believe a lie, it is because we want to believe the lie.

“Everyone is hungry for something and they will give anything to get it” Pamela Meyer, Liespotting

I met Pamela Meyer at the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation University in Istanbul, Turkey about a month ago.  She spoke about Lie Spotting.  She has spent years working with the FBI to train agents in spotting deception.

She spoke about several clues that FBI agents learn to watch for when they conduct interviews.  You can read more about those clues in her book.  However there was a deeper idea that she left with me.

We Enjoy Lies

Bernie Madoff, $18 Billon fraudster

When we believe a lie, it is because we want to believe the lie.

Lying is a cooperative act. When somebody lies to us and we choose to believe it, we are cooperating with the liar. A great liar is excellent at quickly identifying what it is that you want more than anything. The liar’s lies will help you see yourself closer to the person you wish you were, but that inside you don’t feel that you are.

“Lying is the bridge between reality and our fantasies, between who we are and who we want to be. And it’s a cooperative act. You can only be lied to if you agree to it.” Pamela Meyer

If you are taken in by a financial scheme, it is because the liar has seen that you want to see yourself as a smart, financially savvy person; and you don’t feel that you are. Or it may be that your brother is richer than you and it bothers you, the con-man sees that your need is to feel that you are as good as your brother.

I sat there in the audience in Istanbul and I reflected on the types of fantasies that I have.  What type of person I would like to appear to be?  Where does my fantasy me most differ from my real me?  If a liar tells me that I show excellent discipline and consistency: I want to believe. If a liar tells me that I still look young, strong and healthy; I am prone to believing.  If Bernie Madoff told me that he only allows the elite few to invest, and that he has heard that I am a special person; I am prone to deciding to invest.

Caveat Emptor

It is where our fantasy most diverges from our reality that we will be most open to accepting deception.  What are your fantasies that a liar might use?  What do you want to believe that you are, but inside still have doubts?  Who do you want to love you, but inside wonder whether they do?  What groups do you want to belong to, and inside hope to one day be able to join?  In these situations, you will believe a liar’s deception.

Can I meet Jimmy Wales?

Networking via email 101

Once in a while I get an email from someone asking to meet me.  The email subject is strong enough for me to open the email.  The sender uses the 6 ways to get action from your emails.  However, I get the feeling that this meeting is going to be a one way street.

Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia

Reading through Quora today, I came across this simple question to Jimmy Wales: “If I ask Jimmy Wales for a meeting, will he meet me?”  His answer is simple, but as I read it I stopped and thought “that’s it! that’s why some email requests for meetings seem ok but still get a no”.

Jimmy Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur best known as a co-founder of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.  Here is his answer as to whether he might meet you:

“Jimmy, will you meet with me?”

“Possibly, but you’ll have to make a good pitch as to why I should!

It’s actually surprising how many people don’t follow this simple guideline of courtesy.  I often get long tedious emails from people explaining to me in great detail how I can help them, how great it would be for them if I would work on their project with it, or endorse it, etc.  But they fail to consider my context – why should I care, and even if I do care, why should I act on this rather than any of a thousand other things.

One-on-one meetings are a huge time sink and generally unnecessary.  Email is almost always more effective.” Jimmy Wales

Consider Jimmy’s Context

When you are asking for time, why will it benefit both?  Even if it is my “job” to meet you, the courtesy of thinking through how I might gain from the meeting will make it more worthwhile for us both.

The 3 Basic Questions of Good Business

Good business has been done the same way for centuries. The medium does not change the rules for success.

Question 1: Who exactly do you help?

Who do you help?  What problem do you solve for them?

How can you make that pain tangible for the listener?  Effective sales is about helping a customer understand that their suffering can go away.  They have a choice.  Continue to suffer, or begin to change.

Question 2: Where can you take me?

People don’t buy coaching, they buy results. “I am a coach” = about me; “I enable you to make a living through speaking” = results, about you.  Olympic coaches have not won gold; they have helped others achieved gold.

The more I am specific, the more I show how others like you have gone on this similar journey and achieved these desirable results, the better.

Customer testimonials are powerful.  When a salesperson explains their “vision” it is because they can’t show you a customer who has already gone through the journey.

Question 3: Why can I trust you?

What makes you worthy of trust? It takes a tremendous amount of trust to click “buy” on the website of someone you have never met and believe that the goods will be delivered.

These are the 3 important questions.

Trust

What is Trust?

Trust is the foundation of strong relationships. Without trust, any relationship is weak. Trust is the willingness to rely on the actions of another person.  In a relationship of trust, the trustor is willing to release control over the actions of the trustee.

Trust has to be earned. It is not given. Trust is an intuitive, inner sense of whether I allow you to influence me. The trust equation is the most practical tool that I have come across as a guide to trustworthy behaviours.

Trust is an economic lubricant, reducing transaction costs.  Greater levels of trust in a society accelerate business activity, increase employment and increase prosperity.

Trust is a powerful force in human activity.

What is Trust made of?

Charles Green describes the 4 ingredients of Trust in the Trust Equation:

Where:

  • T = Trust
  • C = Perception of Credibility
  • R = Perception of Reliability
  • I = Intimacy
  • SO = Perception of Self-Orientation

How do you Increase Trust?

In order to Increase Trust = Increase Perception of Credibility or Increase Perception of Reliability or Increase Intimacy or Reduce Perception of Self-Orientation.

Ways to increase Perception of Credibility:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Don’t exaggerate.
  • Avoid saying things that others may see as lies (eg “We’ll put our best people on it”)
  • If you don’t know, say “I don’t know”.  Quickly.
  • If you don’t belong, don’t go.
  • Do your homework.
  • Care about the work.

Ways to increase Perception of Reliability:

  • Make specific small commitments and deliver 100%.
  • Send meeting materials in advance.
  • Make sure meetings have clear goals, and that those goals are met.
  • Use the words your listener would use.
  • Review agendas for meetings.
  • Re-confirm events 24 hours before.

Ways to Increase Intimacy:

  • Ask insightful questions.
  • Share first.

Ways to Reduce Perception of Self-Orientation:

  • Ask questions.
  • Listen and paraphrase without adding anything.
  • Resist the need to fill silences.
  • Focus on defining the problem, not guessing the solution.
  • Say “I don’t know” if you don’t know.
  • Take responsibility for failed communications (“I have failed to communicate clearly” vs “You don’t understand“)
  • Think as if you were completely responsable for this person’s future success in all aspects that are important to the other person.
  • Care about the work.  If you don’t care about the work, it is inevitable that you will focus more on yourself.  Low self orientation is all about intensity of your commitment to help your listener.

A Working Example of the Trust Equation

Imagine that we rate each variable on a 1 to 10 scale.  (Trust can range from 0 low to 30 high).

We have a business relationship between a client Tom and a salesman Mary.  It is early days in their dealings.  

Tom’s perception of Mary is:  

  • Credibility = 7
  • Reliability = 5
  • Intimacy = 4
  • Self Orientation = 8  

Trust = 7 + 5 + 4 / 8 = 2  

Any mathematical minds will rapidly have seen that changing the divisor SO will have the greatest possible impact on trust levels.  

Reducing SO from 8 to 4 doubles trust.  Reducing SO to 2 quadruples trust.  Reducing SO to 1 multiplies trust by 8.   Perfect Trust would be a score of 30.  

Reducing Self-Orientation

Reducing Self-Orientation is the greatest lever to increase trust.  

  1. Ask more questions.  
  2. Listen.  
  3. Don’t fill silences.    

Trust increases wealth.  Trust is the lubricant of wealth creation.

Do people perceive you as reliable?  Do people perceive you as credible?  Do people perceive you as interested in them, or ego-centric?

(How do you know?)

If you liked this post, you will also like My father’s list: Leaders and Non-Leaders and 12 Vital Questions for any Business.