A Zen approach to conflict resolution

When we agree with others, we are just listening to our own story. Our skill as communicator really shows up when we disagree with others.

As coach and strategic facilitator I work mostly with social justice organizations. One would expect that activist leaders would be skilled in addressing conflict. In truth, I know very few people who feel confident to deal with conflict. We want to smooth things over, ignore things to keep the peace, or push hard so it goes away quickly. Yet, difference and disagreement are part of life. We admire the richness that nature offers, so why do we shy away from differences in personality and opinion?

In "Everything is workable. A Zen approach to conflict resolution ", Diane Musho Hamilton offers an effective approach to engage with disagreement. The framework can be applied in a range of situations: from breaking open deadlock situations to addressing simmering conflict at work or at home.

The starting point is that there are always three perspectives in conflict.  The question is how to hold each of these perspectives equally, and how to transcend our own one-sided part of the story. No perspective is 'more true' than the other, as each one reveals a different dimension of reality. My perspective is personally valid for me ("I"). Equally, the other person’s perspective is personally valid for them ("You"). The third perspective ("It") is reality viewed from a distance: an outsider view, facts, evidence, data.

By casting a large net over all three perspectives we can catch possibilities that we didn't see before. For high quality conversations we try to hold a big enough space to accommodate all three perspectives. So for communication to be effective, we need to be able to shift between the I-space (my view) into the You-space (your view). We step into another person’s shoes, filter and see the world through their eyes. We don’t need to agree with or condone their perspective. Yet, we are starting to connect and relate, and open up to the possibility of "We". We shine a light on possible truths between us and our shared values and beliefs, the third perspective (It).

So, give it a try and see what opens up.

• Consider a current disagreement or conflict
• Explore the three different truths
• Start with first person: describe your version of events.
• Tell the story of the other player: describe their first-person perspective, really enter their world, to see the circumstances through their eyes
• Bring in an objective perspective: describe what a neutral observer would see. Is there any other relevant, objective information? Is there someone who could offer a third-person perspective?
• Now look for the overlap between each of the three stories: What do you see now that you hadn't considered before? Can you find a perspective in which everyone can agree? How does it feel to settle into the shared point of view of “We”?

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