I was talking to my friend Shakil over at Anima leadership the other day, about the book he’s working on, Deep Diversity: Overcoming the Unconscious Power of Bias, Tribes and Emotions (forthcoming, Between The Lines Press, Toronto). We were discussing the value of conflict resolution skills for diversity work.
What’s the one skill that helps you the most, I asked him, and myself the same.
It’s a hard question, try it for yourself.
Not because nothing came to mind, but everything that came to mind turned out to be an attitude, not a skill.
So, the one conflict skill you’ll ever need is an attitude -the attitude that conflict is healthy. Or that conflict is an opportunity to grow. Or that conflict is the first step to transformation, community, or change. Shakil said for him, it’s an attitude that you can’t break anything. Whatever it is, the best skill is some attitude towards conflict that fortifies you, gets you past your fear, edges, shame, and anxiety.
But I wanted a skill, too. Being as obsessed as I am these days with specific and learnable behaviors, I wondered if it were possible to make attitude change into a behavior, into a skill. And then I had this thought:
When you have to have a tough conversation with someone, there are only two things you have to do:
- Learn something new about the other person
- Learn something new about yourself
The beauty of that is what it does to your awareness. It focuses your attention on something bigger than “who did what” and “right and wrong” of the conflict. That bigger thing is learning, which means you’re not just in a reactive and fearful state, but also tracking, thinking, and giving yourself space to step back and detach. But at the same time, it puts your focus on yourself and on the other, so you are not just detached, but also in the immediate present. Pretty nifty, I thought.
Try it out. Or better yet, what’s your one conflict skill you can’t do without?