How can you resolve conflict safely from a psychological perspective?

A puppy looking at the camera looking curious

We are highly emotional beings. As a mediation and conflict resolution specialist, I accept that our brains are 2% to 10% rational and 90% to 98% emotional. Knowing this, the psychological implications related to conflict resolution are significant compared to the sensible computations involved in most conflicts. So, how can you have psychologically safe conflict resolution? That is what Dayna Lee-Baggley, PhD, and Ronald E Pizzo posed in this article in Psychology Today. What follows is an elaboration of key points from my experiences following a read of their article.

 

 Collaboration

 

To collaborate with others, focus on “we” rather than “me” for participants to feel psychologically safe. My own experience tells me everyone needs to be respected, and everyone needs to be listened to foster understanding. The authors also offer, and rightfully so, how important it is to feel appreciated. Being appreciated has been reinforced by this author with a blog on identification, appreciation, and affiliation. I have written on these topics with  The Collaboration Effect, which incorporates building authentic connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously in order to build bridges and negotiate closure.

In the Lee-Baggley and Pizzo article, they offer three broad insights. These are”

 

Step 1. Psychological Flexibility – Getting Unstuck

Step 2. Shared Purpose – The Foundation ‘We Centric’

 Step 3. Psychological Safety – The Safe Space for ‘We Centric’ Conversations   

Let us look at each with added personal insights.

 

Step 1. Psychological Flexibility – Getting Unstuck

 

Being focused on the current moment is what Rudyard Kipling was offering with his poem “If.” This poem has many versus but taking the first stanza and summarizing the last he offers:

 

“if you can keep your head when all about you

are losing theirs and blaming it on you….

You will be a Man, my son!”

 

Lee-Bagley and Pizzo suggest the need to slow down. To me, this ties into the poem “If.” Focus. Connect on what is essential at any point and time. Do not blame anyone. Define and focus on the problem. Notice how you and others are reacting. Develop alternatives. Determine the impact of the alternatives. By evaluating the impacts of alternatives (economically, socially, and environmentally) , better decisions are made. This may result in one of the alternatives, a hybrid, or the need to go back to an earlier step in the process. In the end, better decisions will be made.

 

Step 2. Shared Purpose – The Foundation ‘We Centric’

 

Dr. Dan Shapiro from Harvard has a less than 5-minute video on How to Argue. He suggests exploring core values for understanding, appreciation for one another, and affiliation by connecting emotional interests. Tying this into Lee-Bagley and Pizzo’s article with their focus on shared purpose and an example of gun control differences, the parties were able to focus on safety and reach an agreement on steps to address this issue.

It sounds so simple, but our brains are wired to focus on positions based on bias. It takes real effort and, at times, a third party, like a mediator, to help the parties explore alternatives. The mediator can offer questions that take the conversation in a different direction.

Another example was around abortion with a state legislator group with opponents on both sides. Once the focus became on having wanted healthy babies that were raised in caring, loving homes with resources to raise a healthy child, the parties found common ground. What could be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies? More than that, what could be done to nurture pregnant women to have healthy babies and enhance the child's quality of life? What is needed with newborn babies going home for the first time, their first year, toddlers, preschoolers, and K to 12 years in school? They found a way to make it work.

The idea of a shared purpose beyond differences goes a long way to diffuse conflict.

 

 Step 3. Psychological Safety – The Safe Space for ‘We Centric’ Conversations  

 

We all make mistakes. Given this situation, is it possible to forgive others for their mistakes? Is the environment such that anyone can ask for help? The authors point out that the environment is psychologically safe when

 

  1. “People are committed to open and transparent communication, free to express their thoughts and feelings.
  2. People are encouraged to speak up without fear of retribution, ridicule, embarrassment, or shame.
  3. People feel confident that their opinions and ideas will be valued and heard.”

 

How do you develop a culture that promotes these three elements? It begins with me. It requires patience, building relationships, listening actively, and caring about others. This is a shared responsibility. It must be visioned, led, and lived. It starts with education. Demonstrations with actions speak much louder than words. Helping others through the process and recognizing that mistakes are inevitable is part of the process. Instead of feedback, give feed forward. What can we learn from this, and what can we do better in the future? That is both of us.

Recognizing that everyone wants respect, to be listened to, and affirmed promotes a culture that reinforces these behaviors. Focusing on your mission, vision, and shared values, as well as the shared purpose, will allow you to have a safe environment to have conversations with each other. The result is greater productivity, better employee satisfaction, and enhanced customer service. Everyone wins when everyone is on board.

 

Conclusion

 

Addressing these areas appropriately will help you make better decisions. Practicing psychological flexibility will allow you to see other alternatives. Focusing on “we” will help you develop a shared purpose for what matters. As a result, you will have a better understanding, better business results, and greater engagement by your employees and customers.

Check out these links if you need assistance, want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhance your Servant Manager skills.  

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]