When two people find themselves in a conflict situation, the two parties usually focus trying to figure out what the other person is saying or what the other person wants. In the process, they can miss the point of the other person’s request or demand. They miss why the other person wants what they want.
Focusing on what the other person is saying is important. It helps you understand their desires more fully. It helps you meet their immediate demands. However, addressing only the what without understanding the why can lead to continued miscommunication and unresolved conflict.
Consider these scenarios:
When your spouse asks you to meet for lunch today, they have delivered a statement of what they want – lunch.
The questions to consider are these: Do they want to meet for lunch because they are hungry and they expect to be near your office at lunchtime?, or Do they want more time with you and this is the only way they know how to ask for it?
If their reason why is the former question, you can have lunch together some other time. If their reason why is the latter, you might be able to meet their request in a different way.
The employee who asks for a raise has told you what they want – more money.
You should ask yourself: Do they have more cash demands because of something that happened at home?, or Do they want more money in exchange for tolerating poor working conditions?
If their reason why is the first question, a pay raise might actually address their concerns. If their reason why is the second question, a pay raise will not help the situation.
The co-worker who asks you to open a window has said what they want – an open window.
You should wonder: Do they want the room temperature cooler?, or Are they nauseated by some odor in the air?
If they want it cooler and you are comfortable with the temperature, you might find an alternative arrangement. If they are nauseated by an odor that you either do not smell or do not mind, opening the window may be the only way to help them.
These simple examples illustrate the point. If you focus only on what people request without considering why they requested it, you could miss their real concern.
I do not suggest that you analyze everything people say for deep, hidden meaning. I do recommend that you listen with discerning ears so that you learn to understand the why behind the what. I also recommend that you learn to question your assumptions about other people. Rather than snap to a judgment, ask a question. Seek clarification before you assume too much. Learn to search for their why without projecting your perspective onto their intentions.
If you really work to understand the why behind their what, you will more effectively address the real clash of needs and desires that originally created the conflict.