People find themselves in potential conflict situations every day. Some are not comfortable confronting conflict and do whatever they can to avoid it. Of course, that does not solve the problem.
Some people rush into battles head-on, determined to get their way and teach the other party a lesson. That does not solve the problem either, and it usually makes things worse. The worst-case scenario is when both parties approach the conflict with scorched earth tactics. When you fight fire with fire, you only get a bigger fire.
When you approach conflict, remember that people are best treated as individuals. When you mix two chemicals, you will get a predictable reaction, but when you mix two people there are many possible results.
Most of the time, these results can be understood according to a handful of simple principles of human behaviour, which I call the Eight Rules Of Engagement.
1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
When faced with a conflict, most people attempt to persuade the other person to accept their point of view. They do this by assuming, jumping to conclusions, and arguing their points as forcefully as they can.
If the other person doesn’t see it their way, they raise their voices and talk some more, often repeating the same arguments that didn’t work the first five or six times.
Ask yourself: Do you learn more by talking or by listening? And if you knew more about the other person, her interests, and her point of view, would you be more likely to understand her? And if you listened sincerely and sought to understand her better, would she be more likely to listen to and understand you? And if you understood each other better, wouldn’t you be more likely to resolve the conflict?
Do not assume the other person is aware of this rule, or any of the rules that follow. Make the first move yourself. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
2. People do things for their reasons, not yours
Many parents struggle to get their children to eat vegetables. They tell them a host of reasons: “You will grow up to be big and strong”; “They are good for your health”; “You shouldn’t waste food — children in Africa are starving” and so on.
These are all good reasons, but the child may still be unlikely to eat his veggies. These reasons sound good to parents, but not to children.
If you want your child to eat his vegetables, give him a reason he can understand and accept. For example, you can say “When you finish your vegetables, you can have dessert, watch TV or play computer games.” These reasons may seem like extortion and may not win you the Parent of the Year Award, but they work.
More importantly, this example is a good illustration of the need to find a rationale that has meaning for the other person. People tend to think that if the rationale sounds reasonable to them, others will view it favourably as well.
Rather than assume that the other party thinks the way you do, anticipate what reasons may appeal to him and make it easy for him to agree with you.
3. People often act based on emotion and justify their actions with reasons
Most people tend to favour logic over emotion. But human beings are emotional creatures. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson said: “What makes humanity is not reason. Our emotions are what make us human.”
Salesmen understand that emotions rule most buying decisions. That’s why they are trained to identify “hot buttons”. For example, a car salesman will not go over the technical specifications of a model you are interested in. Rather, he will encourage you to drive the car so you can smell the leather seats, listen to the sound system, feel the responsiveness of the steering and use all of your senses to elicit an emotional response.
People often give high-sounding reasons to explain their positions, beliefs, and behaviours. But not everyone operates according to noble motives. Take stated positions with a grain of salt, and consider what a person’s hidden motives might be.