Today, as I sat in an airport business lounge waiting for a flight, I overheard bits and pieces of another traveler's conversation. I wasn't trying to overhear. I just couldn't help but overhear because his volume kept getting progressively louder.
From what I could tell, he was engaged in a bit of a conflict conversation.
I could also tell that he was making a common mistake that rarely, if ever, leads to conflict resolution and almost always leads to conflict escalation. Based on the bits and pieces of conversation that I overheard, I think the person on the other end of the phone call was making this mistake as well.
The symptoms of the mistake manifested as:
- Justifying behaviors
- Explaining why he was right
- Showing the other person why he was wrong
- Rehashing what had already happened
- No focus on what to do the next time this situation occurred to make it turn out better
The root cause of the problem stems from focusing on the past rather than the future. I wrote about this challenge previously in my post about the 7 Deadly Sins of Conflict Resolution.
If you want to guarantee conflict escalation, keep revisiting the past — past statements, past actions, past reasons, past thinking, etc.
Talking about the past is like throwing out an anchor. It stops forward progress and keeps the conversation stuck in problem discussion rather than problem solving.
Problem discussion becomes negative and accusatory, if it goes on too long.
Problem solving is about finding ways to set and meet mutual expectations and how to interact with and behave towards each other so that conflicts do not recur.
If you want to productively resolve conflicts, move quickly to a future focus. Only stay in the past long enough to understand how the miscommunication or misunderstanding happened, and then look for ways you can interact with the other person in the future to stop the problem from happening again.