I believe that there are eight fundamental causes of conflict. In this and the next post, I look at them in detail, with the goal of reframing how we think about the causes and how to practice to have more productive conflict.
How do we get better at reframing conflict without practice?
A lot of people don’t want to practice. It’s understandable. Practice is difficult. It’s do, or do not, there is no try. The interesting thing about that video is that Luke Skywalker practiced a lot to control the ship in The Empire Strikes Back. He didn’t just walk up to his ship and raise it out of the swamp. He practiced with stones first.
Many public figures often don’t talk about their practice. Their followers dream about their successes and how to emulate them. Here’s a secret: you can. Not with 10,000 hours of practice, which is a popular goal. You can with deliberate practice. Check out the original article, if you want to learn more about deliberate practice.
Practice Reframing the first 4 Causes of Conflict
Art Bell and Bret Hart (not the professional wrestler) published studies in 2002 and 2009 that examined the eight major causes of conflict. The focus of their work was on workplace conflict, but as we know, workplace conflict simply projects all conflict. I’ll identify the first four causes, provide context into why these are common causes, and provide insight into how you can practice reframing when these factors cause your conflicts.
Cause 1: Resources
Money is hard. Either you have too much or you don’t have enough. If you have too much, pressures about how to spend it rise from your inner and outer circles. If you don’t have enough, it can be challenging to keep up a vibrant social life and FOMO increases. If an argument arises about money, it is often not about money at all. When someone envies your financial situation, that person’s concern is likely about their own financial situation. When your social circle’s financial situations are substantially different, maintaining these relationships without envy is challenging.
When we reframe these money situations, it is important to offer help. Not necessarily financial help, but potentially money management help. If that’s not comfortable, think about fun activities that are inexpensive.
In contrast, when money-shaming is the issue, the cause is probably not about money. The cause of the money shaming has something to do with the relationship. Instead of simply saying no to that expensive activity, it would be easier to find less expensive activities to spend your time on.
Cause 2: Approaches to conflict
Your approach to conflict is instrumental to how you reframe conflict. There is a good chance that your approach to conflict differs from the person with whom you are conflicting. This makes it incredibly challenging to manage that conflict. As a first step, you must learn how you approach conflict. Then, with practice, you can adapt your approach to conflict to specific situations.
After you’ve practiced, you can start to decide what others’ approaches to conflict are. Once you have a grasp on your approach and can figure out how others are approaching conflict, you’ll have a much easier time resolving conflicts. Style matters.
Cause 3: Perceptions
Have you ever played the game, telephone? If not, try it. If you have, you understand how important perception is in communication. As you might imagine, perception amplifies in conflict. There are many situations where you thought you heard something, only for the speaker to later correct you on what you heard. There are also many times where you said something that the listener interpreted in their own way.
While the conversation may lengthen, I can’t emphasize how important repeating what the other person said is. It will feel uncomfortable at first. When you hear something that doesn’t make sense, that you don’t agree with, or that will lead to conflict, pause and repeat what you heard. When you repeat what you heard, you will learn that your perception isn’t always perfect. Even though we’ve been hearing our entire lives, we have not always been listening.
Simply put, hearing is unconscious and listening is conscious. Unless you have a hearing impairment, you hear things all the time. You hear cars passing by, chatter, background noise, and birds’ singing. When you listen, you make a choice to hone in on a specific instance of sound, like someone talking to you, and you interpret those sounds. Culturally, it is safe to say that Americans are not the best listeners.
Listening takes practice. I urge you to really listen, without multi-tasking, when someone talks to you. Find areas where you need the person to repeat what they said for you to better understand. It might change how you interact with others.
Cause 4: Goals
Goals are often the reason we conflict. Fear causes us to not articulate our goals. We fear that if we show our cards, we might not get what we want. When we conflict, everyone’s goals could differ. A goal could be to have the other person give in, to compromise, or something else. When we don’t articulate our goals, we often conflict without ever understanding why we conflict.
Let’s talk about negotiating a contract. If someone offers you a job, you do your Google research (e.g., Glassdoor). You figure that you are worth $50,000. You become disappointed when HR offers you $45,000. To start your negotiation, name your goal. Then, try to understand HR’s goal. Your goal isn’t to make $50,000; it’s fair compensation. HR’s goal is to get the best talent for the lowest price. Do you see how these goals could conflict?
If you want to learn how to negotiate a contract, check out any of the 30 million articles on Google.
A few bits of advice, though. Articulate your goals. Remain confident. Ask about the organization’s goals. If you start here, you will get further than someone who does not articulate goals.
Low Stakes Practice
When you first learn how to play a sport, you don’t start in a high-stakes game. When you are first learning how to play an instrument, you don’t play in front of an audience right away. So, when it comes to reframing conflict, you shouldn’t start with your supervisor.
The best way to practice reframing conflict is to practice with people you know and trust, in fake situations. For example, call your best friend and invite her out to coffee. Explain to her that you want to practice this new skill. Get her to buy into the benefit of practice. Then, find examples of conflict, and ask her to argue with you. At first, this low stakes practice will feel forced. But, we only do better through practice.
Eventually, you will feel comfortable reframing conflict in a higher-stakes environment. You will use what you learned, said, and how you felt, to succeed in managing real conflict.
Next week: Practice Reframing: Part 2
Next week, I will look at pressure, power, values, and policies to round out the eight causes of conflict. Until next time!
If you’re ready to start reframing how you think about conflict today, book me!