Having differences is not synonymous with being in conflict. Conflict is the result of not being able to reconcile differences. Differences are inherent in the nature of any relationship. They co-exist with similarities. It is how we approach them that determine whether the process of dealing with our differences might actually improve the relationship. Dealing with differences can be a creative process between people. Here is a toolbox of skills to help you be more creative in your relationship:
• Hold judgment on what someone is saying and ask questions intended to improve your understanding of their different opinion. Clarify meaning by asking questions like “Did you mean…”
• Where you have differences of approach to a particular problem or decision, keep your focus on arriving at a joint decision or approach to a problem. Seek agreement without giving in.
• Be aware of whether you are only expounding your own view, rather than also being willing to listen to different opinions. When you listen to me I feel respected. When you don’t, I will fight your opinions.
• Give someone “the benefit of the doubt.”
• Listen for keywords, which is where you will find the heart of someone’s position. Speak and ask questions relating to those keywords. Watch your own tendency to avoid getting to the heart of your differences and getting lost in side issues.
• Be aware that the other person can sometimes emphasize differences and create distance, even anger. Diffuse this kind of emphasis by emphasizing common goals.
• Separate the person from the words. React to the differing opinion, not the person.
• When dealing with differences, move in closer. The closer you are, the more attention is being paid.
• Encourage feedback. What does the other person think you said?
• Shut out distractions. Control you own tendency to void the frustration of dealing with differences. Hang in there.
Now here is a secret of the therapist trade that I’ll let you in on if you’ve read this far. All the above tools are in the therapist toolbox for helping their clients. We use these tools to help clients with themselves and each other. These are the tools for creative listening and the resolving of issues that bedevil our clients. Using these tools properly will strengthen you as a person.