aikido master resolving conflict peacefullyRecent meeting: opposing views led to escalating conflict… EQ train wreck.  As I watched, I just kept thinking:  

It would be so easy to negotiate this conflict if people used just a scrap of emotional intelligence.

How?  Here are 4 simple steps to resolve conflict and get agreement… get REAL about a solution:


1.  Relax.  

When you walk into a meeting “wound up,” people immediately feel that.  Doesn’t matter if you’re coming to attack them, or just stressed by something completely unrelated… if you walk in tense/rushed/anxious… you create resistance.

Neuroscience: Emotional contagion happens automatically — even the smell of stress triggers it! 

2.  Engage

I’m conflict avoidant. I make all kinds of assumptions that people won’t like me, they’ll attack me, etc. So when I see emotional complexities, my first reaction is to avoid. This, of course, almost always fails to move the situation toward resolution. The “secret” is to raise the issue in a neutral, curious way, for example: “It seems like we’re not quite connecting… I’m feeling some stress, how about you?”

Neuroscience: Simply naming emotions reduces reactivity.  When we identify feelings and label them, we’re connecting the cognitive brain with the emotional experience — that’s the basis of emotional intelligence.

3. Align.*

When you are in conflict, people usually focus on their differences. Instead, emphasize your common purpose. What are you BOTH trying to achieve? What is your shared goal or purpose?

Let’s say you are giving feedback about someone’s work, and it’s not great.  You can start by saying, “here are the 22 things wrong with your crappy work…” or, you can start by saying, “I want to be sure we’re on the same page about the goals.  Here’s what I think we are trying to accomplish…”

As Daniel Shapiro, the head of Harvard’s International Negotiation Program, says: The secret to handling emotions in conflict is to move out of an oppositional, me-vs-you stance. More about that below.

Neuroscience: Trust is reciprocal. There’s actually an emotion chemical called oxytocin that’s the basis of trust — and a feeling of caring. When we’re working toward a shared purpose that we all care about, trust is likely to grow.

4. Listen.

Think of the cliché used car salesman who talks a mile a minute trying to convince you… do the opposite.  The “first rule of emotional intelligence”: When people feel pushed, they resist.

Don’t push:  Pull.  Offer.  Invite.  Listen.  Make space.  

Neuroscience: There’s fascinating new research on stress showing that, among other pressures, stress gives us a nudge to connect.  In a challenging situation, stress can push us apart, but if you listen to what’s really happening for the other people, it can pull you together.

Still stuck? Go back to step 1… stay REAL ’till you have agreement.


EQ to Negotiate a Conflict

More about step 2, Align, and the picture.

In step 2, I mentioned the incredible insights from Daniel Shapiro (from Harvard’s International Negotiation Program)?  He talked about moving out of an OPPOSITIONAL STANCE — and coming to stand on the same side so you & your former adversary are now standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing a mutual challenge.  It’s not a technical, cognitive skill — it’s an application of emotional intelligence, and the Six Seconds process for using EQ

Know Yourself, tune in.  Notice your own feelings and reactions.

Choose Yourself, deescalate.  Decide to get off of autopilot and engage.

Give Yourself, step together. Use empathy and your purpose to come together.

The picture above is one of the great Aikido masters (bonus points if you can identify the photo, I don’t know).  See how he’s moved to stand on the SAME side as his “opponent”?  See his open body language?  He’s inviting the young guy to fall down, and guess what?  The young guy is going to!

When the young guy attacks, instead of a direct power struggle, the Aikido master is doing this amazing step of redirecting. He moves so he is literally standing next to the attacker. They are now on the same side, facing the same direction.

If you don’t want to get caught up in dissent, move so you’re standing next to the other guy.  One of the power-tools here is adding just a little empathy. When you bring empathy to the process, you tune in and hear what’s beneath the surface. You connect. You find that while you disagree, you’re actually in this together.

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