A key tenet of effective conflict resolution is that conflict resolution discussions are more productive when they focus on finding future actions that will fix the current relationship problem.
Sadly, many of us gravitate towards discussing what has or has not already happened rather than talking about what we would rather see in the future. As a result, many conflict conversations become “he said, she said” discussions where emotions flare and conflicts escalate rather than “here’s what we agree to do in the future” discussions where emotions stay in-control and conflicts get resolved.
When we talk about the past, we tend to talk about things that neither of us can change. Nothing I do will change the fact that I hurt your feelings. Nothing you do will change the fact that I received your words as demeaning and disrespectful. We can talk about our feelings at great length, but no amount of discussion will undo what has already been done.
I see great value in understanding the impact of my words and actions on you and you understanding the impact of your words and action on me. I also understand the need to discuss our emotional responses until we both feel understood. I see no value in discussing the past in an effort to “undo” it.
Recently, I overheard a conversation about a misunderstanding between several people who were involved in the situation but were not present for the conversation. One party tried, on two or three occasions, to revisit why the miscommunication was not their fault and how it could have been avoided if so-and-so had done this instead of that. Basically, they invested their energy in placing blame rather than in resolving the issue. Fortunately, the other party quickly turned the direction of the conversation back to a future focus about how to make sure everyone involved had the right information in the future.
One party worked really hard to avoid taking the blame. The other party ignored blame altogether and focused on a solution. The conversation quickly moved from “he said, she said” to “what can we do together to fix this.” Emotions almost immediately calmed, and both parties had a productive conversation.
When we focus on the past, we generally focus on blame. When we focus on the future, we tend to focus on solutions.
Monday Momentum Message – Learn from the past, don’t stay there.