I have a love-hate relationship to conflict. I love it when things “work out,” but hate it when they don’t. My fear of things not working out, of people’s feelings getting hurt, or of me losing something important are usually high on my list of justifications for not saying certain things, not engaging in the conflict at all, or selling out on my deepest truth even in the midst of it.
However, as I look deeper at what my definition of “working out” really is, I realize that it’s often some version of things going my way or some compromise that leaves me feeling like I’m the “good guy” and that the person or people involved still like, appreciate, or approve of me.
Can you relate to this? You may have a different version of this story, but most people I know and work with have a disempowered relationship to conflict and have come up with creative ways of avoiding it, not dealing with it, or manipulating themselves, others, or situations so as to not have to engage in conflict in a vulnerable way at all. However, as we’ve all noticed – this doesn’t work or give us much power in our relationships or our lives, especially when it comes to conflict.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my good friend, Lisa Earle McLeod, on my radio show about her latest book called The Triangle of Truth. Lisa, a speaker, consultant, and expert in conflict resolution, teaches through her books and in her trainings that in every conflict there are really three sides to it (like a triangle) – my truth, your truth, and then the higher-level solution. It’s not about “compromise” or “right vs. wrong” in most cases – it’s about being willing to engage in conflict in such a way that we allow something bigger, better, and more inclusive to emerge.
As the famous quote from Albert Einstein reminds us, “We can’t solve the problems of today with the level of thinking that created them.”
In talking to Lisa about her book and the Triangle of Truth model that she teaches, I realized that my own fear of upsetting people or having them not like me, as well as my erroneous attachment to being “right” not only create more stress and separation in my relationships, they get in my way of engaging in healthy conflict, which thus robs me and those around me from coming up with higher level, more creative and inclusive solutions – which ultimately benefit all of us.
Here are the six principles Lisa teaches and how we can all use them to embrace conflict, resolve it easier, and come up with solutions that can serve everyone involved in the best way:
1) Embrace AND – So often we get caught in “either/or” thinking which makes us and those around us crazy, is quite sophomoric and limiting by its nature, and doesn’t allow us to see or hear anything else than what we already “know” to be “true.”
2) Make Peace with Ambiguity – Based on our own fear and because so many of us, myself included, like to be in control – we often resist uncertainty. However, being comfortable with uncertainty and allowing ourselves to hang out in ambiguity gives us the openness, patience, and perspective necessary to allow creative solutions to emerge.
3) Hold Space for Other Perspectives – When we’re able to listen to, understand, and appreciate where someone else is coming from (even and especially if we don’t agree with them) we allow the space for something new to arise. It takes practice and trust to allow other people to share their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and perspectives with passion – and for us to just let them be. However, when we allow other people the space to share openly, they often gives us that space in return and we can then find out we’re not always “on the other side” in the way we think we are.
4) Seek Higher Ground – Because we often avoid conflict or even when we get into it try to get out of it as fast as possible, we sometimes rush to come up with “solutions” or “compromises” just to stop the conflict. This compromising process often “works” on the surface, but doesn’t address the deeper issues and won’t give way to the higher level solutions. It’s only when we’re open to and actively look for those higher level solutions that they begin to materialize. This happens when we seek higher ground, instead of simply trying to “win” the argument or end it at all costs because we’re uncomfortable or scared.
5) Discern Intent – With issues that mean the most to us or cut right the core of our most sacredly beliefs, we often have a hard time considering anything else than what we already believe to be true. In this process, we often vilify those who don’t agree with us. “Those people” – the ones who think differently than we do -become “them,” in a negative way. When we look for and find the positive intention of others, even if we don’t see things the way they do, we can get to the core of what’s really true, not just what our ego wants to argue about.
6) Elevate Others – This is all about raising the conversation in our heads, with the other people involved, and about the whole situation. We can and do have impact on other people. We’re able to elevate the conversation with others when we focus on being real and vulnerable (i.e. honest about how we really feel) and also focus on appreciating and empowering those we’re engaged with (i.e. acknowledging them and being grateful for who they are). We can lift up the people around us and in the process lift ourselves up and create the higher level solutions we all truly want.
Resolving conflicts in an open, conscious, and positive way is a lot easier said than done. And, when we remember these simple (but not always easy) principles, as well as the metaphor of the triangle (our truth, their truth, and the higher truth/solutions), we’re able to engage in conflict in a way that not only brings forth better and more inclusive solutions, but can actually create the kind of peace, growth, and harmony we really crave in our lives, relationships, families, communities, and workplaces!