I am often my own worst enemy when my difficult conversations fail.
Not because I don’t know what I want. But because that’s all I’m focused on—what I want. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m also confident that I’m right wanting what I want, which means that that other person must be wrong as well as ignorant.
Obviously, this mindset limits what I notice about the other person’s needs and any possible options for dealing with our differences. You may notice a similar mindset snares you as you struggle through disagreements with others.
To liberate a limited mindset, expand your narrative. Instead of repeating to yourself all the reasons why you are right and he is wrong (notice how many times you’ve already done this and how much more certain and justified you become with each retelling!), get curious about what you don’t know.
Tell the story of the disagreement from the other person’s perspective. But here’s the catch: the other person must be described with integrity and good intent.
Go ahead, try to write that story. What you may likely find is how hard it is to do the first time.
To tell the story of disagreement as if the other person has valid wants and needs and good intentions challenges your current beliefs about that person. So give it a go again.
Write a second draft and challenge yourself to notice what you’ve successfully ignored so far. Here are some questions that may help you deconstruct your disagreement story and reconstruct a more complete narrative:
- What does the other person really care about?
- What objective(s) does she have?
- What is she trying to accomplish?
- Why is that important to her?
- What would the other person say she values about you and the relationship?
Of course, you’ll never know if your answers to these questions are accurate unless you actually ask the other person. But the mere act of exploring the questions opens your mind and your heart to new possibilities.
Writing—and rewriting—your conflict story from the other side can deepen your understanding and compassion for the other person, which will change how you show up in the conversation. And that will help the other person want to hear you.
Research into this story approach to getting around personal obstacles continues to grow. To learn more, check out Writing Your Way to Happiness. You can also register for these two classes:
- Stories that Engage: Shaping workplace culture one story at a time (King County employees attend free. Community partners register here.)
- The Power of Stories to Shape Organizational Results (King County employees attend free. Community partners register here.)