I heard the term conflict transformation for the first time a few months ago, in a small committee meeting connected to my professional organization. I was completely captivated—I knew it was a better term for what I do and how I approach conflict than any I had heard before, and I immediately started using it to talk about my Conflict Remedy trainings and coaching.
When I started out in this field, the common term was conflict resolution, the idea that through mediation and other conflict related tools, we helped people resolve or somehow find a solution for the conflict.
Then, some years later I heard the term conflict management instead, which I liked because our work isn’t always able to eliminate the conflict, but can frequently help people find ways to manage it better. I also liked this term because, since I specialize in workplace conflict issues, I often work with managers, all of whom need to be conflict competent.
Although both conflict resolution and conflict management are serviceable terms, I never felt completely satisfied with either of them. Conflict transformation, however, captures the spiritual and practical nature of how I approach conflict, and how I help clients and students with it.
So, what is conflict transformation?
Word Hippo, the stupendous online Thesaurus, gives several meanings for transformation, including:
All of those definitions are true of conflict transformation, in my opinion! As I wrote in a previous blog post, my (not so modest) goal for the work I do, is to change people’s minds, hearts, and behavior around conflict.
My transforming goals for my clients
I want my clients to start with self affirmation, to know they are worthy just as they are. Then, for them to grow and change for the better, so they have more awareness and more tools to deal with conflict and communicate effectively. While I don’t have supernatural powers or a wand, nor know any incantations, I believe the results of what clients and I do together is magic, a gentle miracle that can change everything.
So how do I help clients transform their relationship to conflict and difficult people?
It all starts with love and acceptance.
I listen a lot, to make sure I understand my clients’ perspectives. I accept how difficult this is for them and how frustrated they are by their difficult person or situation. I validate their truth. It is important they know they aren’t wrong or bad as people; they have simply made human mistakes. Sharing my own mistakes and false assumptions in my own conflicts helps us laugh about these situations together. I never claim that I’m evolved or perfect, simply that it is easier to see these issues clearly for someone else.
Curiosity and compassion
Then, I encourage clients to open their minds and hearts to curiosity and compassion. How might the other person view what is happening? What might they be feeling and concluding? How could my client’s assessment of what is happening shift as a result of asking these questions and seeing the other person with more empathy?
Forgiveness and willingness to change.
To enable this openness and change in attitude, I sometimes have my clients do forgiveness prayers or affirmations for 3 weeks for the other person or situation. I remind them that they don’t have the power to make someone else change, and I ask them to look at what they can change—their own thinking, their resentments, the way they act. I give them tools to help them practice.
We often look at their communication style, with a new perspective about how what they say lands for someone else. Are they effectively conveying what they really want to say? Are they listening?
Transformation is possible!
If I have done all this well, my clients see me as an ally who encourages them to make helpful changes. And, as they do change, often their perception of the difficult person and their work situation changes for the better. Of course, this approach doesn’t always transform what’s wrong, but a miraculous number of times, it actually does.
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