If a basketball team has a game at 7:00 tonight, they would spend 30 minutes before the game warming up and preparing. If we are serious about handling conflict situations in a manner that allows us to journey toward peace, we have to warm up and prepare prior to dealing with the conflict. Otherwise, we are likely to fall back to ineffective Toe-to-Toe strategies.

Each person needs his/her own specific way to prepare. Imagine that Emily and I work in different departments and a conflict has arisen between our teams. Here’s my 5-step process of preparing for conflict before we meet to discuss our concerns. The quoted passages represent my thoughts.

Step 1: Listen

“When Emily comes to talk about this issue, I need to make sure that I listen. I need to listen so well that I can repeat what Emily said and understand what is important to her department.”

Step 2: Identify what’s important to me

“Regarding this issue, what is important to me? What do I want to get out of this for my department?” Although this is usually obvious, sometimes it’s not. We want to be clear about what is important to us regarding this issue.

Step 3: Communicate Win-Win

“When Emily comes to talk, I need to tell her that I won’t agree to anything that won’t benefit her and her department. Nor will I agree with anything that does not benefit my department. I want her to know that my primary purpose is to discover a way that is mutually beneficial.”

During our preparation, we want to think of the other person as a partner in trying to discover what could be mutually beneficial. Communicating Win-Win is critically important, especially if we have experienced previous Toe-to-Toe encounters with this person.

Step 4: Believe a better way than mine is possible

“I have a way of resolving this situation, but I want to be open to the possibility that a better way than mine is possible. I want to stay curious to see if we can discover a better way.”

This is the most challenging part of the preparation because it is easy to believe that ‘my way’ is the best way. We don’t actually have to know what the better way is. In fact, we don’t. We just have to believe that a better way may exist. This belief allows us to loosen our need to be right and to bring curiosity to this time of discovery.

Step 5: Listen

“I want to listen to Emily so well that I know what’s important to her and can repeat what she says to her satisfaction.”

Yes, listening is listed twice in the preparation because it is the trump card in conflict resolution. Listening to understand results in two essential conditions for effective conflict resolution. First, it eliminates or minimizes misunderstandings. Every conflict harbors misunderstandings. By preventing misunderstandings, we become more effective.

I have never created a problem with another person when I have listened to understand.

I often create problems when I don’t listen to understand.

Second, listening communicates ‘You matter’. Often in conflict situations we communicate ‘You don’t matter’. However, when we sincerely listen to understand, we communicate ‘You matter’ and make a partnership around the issue much more likely.

As we learned from our mule friends, conflict provides an opportunity to create something amazing. If we prepare for something amazing, we are more likely to experience it.

Identify what an effective preparation checklist would be for you. Then welcome the next conflict as an opportunity to experience something amazing.

From our Top 20 team…Kevin Brennan, Willow Sweeney, and Tom Cody…who keep discovering ways that are mutually beneficial.

Paul Bernabei, Director
Top 20 Training