The road to greater empowerment in conflict resolution is different from what you might imagine.
We are all familiar with the feeling of power that accompanies anger or being righteously offended. But, swellings of aggravation are delusional and a false sense of power. Through blame, these emotions assign responsibility to other people, but realistically we don’t have much control over anyone but ourselves. The other party may be wrong, but finding him or her primarily at fault rarely brings an end to the problems we create.
If greater power and influence don’t come from anger or finding fault, where do they come from? In simple terms, they arise from being more competent and from taking more responsibility for our experience and our role in sustaining conflict. We have much more authority over our own attitudes and behaviour than over others, and through starting with ourselves we can begin to make progress. The road to greater empowerment in conflict resolution entails taking on greater responsibility for both the experience and the outcomes of conflict interaction.
Below I will highlight three attitudinal shifts you can make that will lead to greater empowerment and increase your capacity to guide conflict to more constructive interactions.
Firstly, our experience, whatever it is, is our own creation. No one makes you angry or generates any other form of aggravation that you experience. Others act and we respond to their actions. You may argue with me that you don’t have full control over what triggers you or how your emotions arise. Granted. However, once we are having an experience – emotional or otherwise – we have a great deal of autonomy over how we respond and act. Expressed in another way, anger and frustration may arise with little control, but we have full autonomy over how we channel them into action – or not. By choice, we can guide emotion into a constructive or destructive direction.
Secondly, consider an argument, which is a common pattern of communication in conflict. Anyone can stop an argument instantly. You simply stop talking and begin to listen intently. In an argument we are 100 percent responsible for our 50 percent of relationship dynamics. The control we have over our 50 percent allows us to stop an argument, or any dysfunctional interaction. Following this, we can speak intentionally after summarizing what we have heard. Refraining from participating in dysfunction does not resolve the issue, but it shifts interactions and communication to a form that has some hope of addressing issues constructively.
Thirdly, we often hear others say they were trying to be helpful or say ourselves that we were acting from our best intentions. Unfortunately, in human relations, good intentions are far from enough. Trying to do good is not adequate. We have to be curious about how others experience our actions. We have to be interested in the effects that we have on others and consider their perspectives. Sometimes we have to actively seek their feedback: “Please tell me how you find my communication at meetings.”
It would be nice if new communication skills (“tools”) would allow us to become more effective in conflict interactions. They help, no question, but greater strides are taken from fundamental shifts in our attitudes to others and to conflict interactions. Sometimes there is a fork in the road where you may need to ask yourself, “What do I really want out of this situation?”
If you want to be more empowered and influential, I invite you to shift your attitudes to taking greater responsibility. In conflict, greater responsibility leads to greater empowerment.