Conflict Resolution Tip #4: Separate People From Problems Because People Are Never the Problem
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence stated in Principle No. 3: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. There is much to be learned from the idea King put out there. After reading dozens of conflict management books and taking several trainings courses in mediation and nonviolence, one thing that is stressed in all conflict solution-based material is the idea that people are never the problem. It is easy in the heat of the moment to see the person as the source of the conflict and even think, “If Susan would just leave the meeting we could get some work done” and even if Susan left the meeting, whatever unmet needs existed to cause the conflict still remain. Susan was just the stimulus to bring awareness to the real problem. At the bottom of all conflicts are unmet needs.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the person (or groups of people) and to place blame on them for “being” the problem. The catch of this is that by placing our energy on the person as the problem we aren’t spending any energy on the real issue at the table, unmet NEEDS! We can say that “John is so greedy and always uses more than everyone else” and that leaves us focused on “what” we think John is and not why we need to make things run smooth again. In the end, it is irrelevant what John “is” because what will solve the problem is a better system of making sure there is enough. In this case, it may be the inventory system that is a problem and not John.
For example, you may have been passed over for a promotion and blame that on the boss. In this instance, you believe the boss is the problem. You think he doesn’t like women and won’t promote one. You start to think if he wasn’t the boss, you could get ahead. Your thinking he “is” a sexist, old fashion, boy’s club manager. As your wrapped up in all this blame game stuff, there is no focus on the real issues causing the conflict. It is even unlikely with this mindset you can even identify the real heart of the conflict which could be unmet needs for trust, productivity, even perhaps a need for better communication. It could be the boss doesn’t know that you scored the last big account and wrote the two last sales reports. If the real conflict here is a communication issue that needs to be addressed, chances are it won’t be addressed if you think the person is the problem.
Take a step back from your judgments and thoughts about what people “are” and look into the needs that are trying to be met. First check in with what human needs you are trying to meet and then see what needs the other person is trying to meet. Don’t look at the strategies, look at the needs met by asking why do I want this? Why does the other person want what they want? When you find the answers to these questions, you will see it is the unmet needs, not the person that is at the heart of the problem.
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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