One of the key principles of conflict resolution theory that we teach to trainee mediators is ‘focus on interests, not positions’. What’s meant by this is that you attempt all of the time to help people reflect on and articulate their needs, what’s important to them, what is ‘really’ going on for them.
This is in contrast to attempting to argue over or defend more surface expressed ‘positions’. But it’s not only in ‘conflict resolution’ that this basic tenet can be so powerful. In every conversation you whether you are a mediator, a manager or a parent, you will have a more successful outcome if you start to view people in terms of what they might need and what might lie beneath the exterior they are presenting to you.
Focus on interests, not positions
Remember, the dispute is never about what the dispute is about! Here are 5 ways to improve communication:
1. First off, get into the right ‘mindset’
This is one where we consciously decide to give time and attention to this person and set an intention to connect with them. So we need to bring a sense of mindfulness to the discussion we are having. It can be helpful even to do some deep breathing to empty our own minds and to slow us down because true connection takes time. One of the things I find useful to do is rather than think about ‘what should I say next’ or in fact to ‘think’ about anything, is to have an image of my own heart centre or intuition centre attempting to connect with theirs. So I’m attempting to listen at deeper levels than just the content’ of what they are communicating.
2. Next, tune into yourself
What are you feeling/sensing here and what’s your own intuition telling you about this person and what might be going on for them ‘beneath’ their words. What sort of energy – which is a kind of catch all word for feeling, sense, aura or mood – are you picking up from their tone and body language.
3. Go for simple open questions
For example ‘What’s going on for you with regards to…’ and even simpler ‘Tell me more’. At a recent NLP training I attended, Trevor Horne talked about the power of the ‘Tell me more’ question followed by ‘And can you be more specific about that’ to take people down to deeper and deeper levels of what’s important to them or at the core of what they are trying to say.
4. Slow down – effective communication takes time
This gives you the space to pick up the unstated and use an acknowledging statement to help draw this out. So when your team member says ‘This presentation is such a pain and I really don’t see the point of it at all’ and they are sighing or a bit uptight you can say ‘it sounds like you aren’t feeling very positive about the presentation next week, tell me more about what’s going on for you’.
5. Find the ‘why’ in the reaction
Keep the question in the back of your mind all of the time ‘What might be going on for this person that they are reacting like this?’
Allow this question to guide your questions. You might even name this, for example ‘I’m picking up that you are very keen to get this piece of work done but see a lot of barriers…can you say more about what’s getting in your way.’
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