The 3 mindset shifts you need to solve complex conflicts.
Figuring out a solution to a complex conflict is almost never totally straightforward, never mind easy or fun.
(After all, it's called dispute resolution for a reason.)
But some conflicts are more complicated than others simply because of the factors involved. Situations in which spouses are living in real estate purchased by their soon- to-be-ex's parents, or where one has been out of the workforce for a long time and needs retraining can take an already-tense divorce negotiation and turn it nuclear.
A child who has special needs, or several younger kids who need expensive daycare can make a heartbreaking custody negotiation even harder.
And an otherwise unpleasant, but not terrible separation can get nerve-wracking when spouses own a business together, especially when they also employ their kids.
Put a couple of hurting people in a room during a tense situation, and here's what you normally get:
The us vs. them mentality comes out in spades. You often find that people start butting heads, and end up feeling like there's nothing they can do other than come to a stalemate where everyone loses. They throw up their hands and give in to hopelessness, feeling like the other person never listens, there's never enough money or time or attention, and there's no way to solve this, so why even bother trying?
Or they'll go to the other end of the spectrum and get really aggressive, battling it out over every little thing because they're afraid that if they give even an inch on one thing, they won't get anything they want.
And this totally makes sense — it's how we've been taught to respond to conflict.
We don't really talk about conflict resolution, either as a society or individually. We talk about winning and losing. We talk about getting our needs met. We talk about protecting what's ours and prying our possessions from our cold, dead hands.
But we don't talk about how conflict resolution could be. Resolving a dispute doesn't have to be a knock down, drag out fight. It doesn't have to be "winners and losers". It truly can be a win-win. But to get there, you have to think about problem solving in a different way.
1. Go from "us vs. them" to "we".
Guess what? You go into a dispute with the idea that the other person is out to get you, and you'll find evidence that they are, even in the most innocuous little things. As you might imagine, this isn't really productive. So the first thing you need to do to move forward in a complex dispute is to ditch the "us vs. them" mentality, lose your positions, and decide to focus on meeting everyone's goals as much as possible.
2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Chances are this isn't the first time you're hearing this advice — but it's a classic for a reason. If you can really ditch the us vs. them idea and see the other person as your partner in problem solving, rather than an adversary, then it becomes easier to put yourself in their shoes and think about options that will meet both of your needs. Admittedly, this can be hard to do when emotions are running high, which is why you also have to…
3. Think through problems in a disciplined way.
When you're right in the middle of a heated discussion, there's no way that you're going to find a creative solution that meets everyone's needs. Your brain isn't biologically in the space to make that happen — fight or flight mode diverts resources away from your prefrontal cortex (the part used for higher decision-making) into the amygdala (which is all about emotions and survival).
So instead of trying to force yourself to do the impossible, agree to work through your problems in a disciplined order. Start by gathering and digesting information. Then look for shared interests, needs, and concerns. Only then should you generate options, evaluate those options, and negotiate agreements.
If you skip any of these steps, you're going to have to go back before you can move forward. Every. Single. Time.
So while this way can feel longer and slower, that's actually a good thing. It keeps you from getting triggered by the relationship dynamic or trapped into an argument because you think your partner is creating a conflict, when really it's just that you need more information.
Above all, it's about remembering that everyone involved is human, and most likely hurting just as much as you are. By having the courage to lean into that humanity instead of pushing back and getting angry, using black and white thinking as a defense mechanism, you can not only get more of what you want, you can also contribute to a change in the whole way we deal with conflict.
I'm out to shift the way the world resolves conflict for good — and I'd love for you to join me. Follow my blog to get free tips and resources for peaceful, effective conflict resolution!