bisccit - into deep water

Into deep water. (water outside the boat will carry it, the water that gets inside will sink it).    

Many people view conflicts as something unpleasant, unproductive and something to be avoided at all costs. Those who know me are aware that I have a completely different view: Conflicts are chances! Chances to understand each other better, to work together, to redefine relationships and sometimes forge new or stronger ones. True: they usually start out unpleasant. A conflict happens when we feel thwarted, when things don’t go the way we want, when we have different objectives or perceptions, when we feel threatened or when we find an unexpected obstacle in our path. And we are definitely not going to like the person we have this conflict with or worse: we used to like them and are sorely disappointed that we now seem to be on opposing sides and we both want to go in different directions.

When you are in a conflict, it feels like you were paddling along fine and all of a sudden you find yourselves in wild water. Many people start blaming each other, putting all their effort in trying to hit each other with their paddles, while the boat is being swept along out of control. The boat rocks and takes on water. Soon someone or everyone will be swept overboard or the whole boat will sink! Isn’t it better to all put a paddle in the water, i.e. the conflict, and look not so much at the other person as the cause of your problems but at the rocks and waves that are the real danger? When you help each other understand where the obstacles are on each side, you can try to find a way around them until you navigate your boat to calmer waters. 

This is why it is called MANAGING conflicts. When you both decide that you no longer want the conflict and all its emotions to throw you here and there, you are taking control of it together. Managing conflicts is hard work, but it’s an essential skill both in personal and professional settings. Here are some tips for effectively managing conflicts:

1. Focus on identifying the rocks (the issues) that are the sources of the conflict: Take them seriously. Even when the rock is not on your side or you think it is just a tiny rock, it can still flip the boat! Listen carefully to each other and respect each point of view. (you don’t have to agree).

2. Remain calm and objective and do not be swept along by the water (the emotions) : Avoid letting your needs, fears, assumptions and motives take control or make you go in circles. When both parties look at themselves objectively and critically they will see their “truth” is not the only one.

3. Communicate effectively: Talk honestly about the “rocks” and the “water” as you see them; be prepared to explain, question and listen with an open mind, accepting that you may see and experience different things in the same wild water. Honest communication is essential in managing conflicts. Ensure that both parties get equal opportunity to express their concerns and ideas. Keep asking interested questions until you both feel heard and understood. 

4. Find common ground: Look for areas of agreement. This can help to build trust and give you a reason to move towards a resolution. Believe me: when you realize you both will get wet when the boat flips over, you have found your reason to start working together, even when you hate each other. 

5. Explore solutions: Once you have identified the source(s) of the conflict and have heard from all parties involved, explore potential solutions. Brainstorm possible options, and work together creatively to come up with solutions you had not thought of before. Move away from the past and look to the future: tell each other what you need to keep paddling forward.

Managing conflicts is not about winning or losing, but rather about finding a solution that is fair and workable for all parties involved. You do not want to get stuck in the wild water and sink OR be the only one who reaches safety if it means the other one drowns. (Bad for your karma) Only when you steer together can you keep the boat afloat and move forward, at least until you have reached calmer waters. Once you are safely on dry land you can decide to shake hands and part ways amicably. Or maybe even continue on your trip together, as a stronger team than before!  

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