We cannot know what goes on in another person's head. Yet when we are in a conflict, we frequently assume we know the other person's thoughts, feelings, or how their self-identity is wrapped up in the conflict. In the video assertive speaking, I introduced you to this idea from the book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Many of us assume that our conflicts are about facts that we all agree on, and therefore, that such a conversation should be fairly straightforward, and when we find that the facts get interpreted differently by different people, as each brings their past experiences with them to the conversation, conversations become confusing and more confrontational than they need be. We also tend to discuss what's important to us as if those things are objectively true. It is important to me that my children go to college and it's important to me that they have a good life. Throughout their childhood, I talked about college like it was a foregone conclusion, as if it was the only next step after high school. Yet it is not objectively true that my children must go to college to have a good life, my beliefs about college and a good life may not be facts to someone else. When you are in a conflict, the question I recommend considering is, is there an objective story that is true for all parties involved in the conversation? Such a story is the one that would be told by an impartial observer. Let's say Jack and Jill work in a Consumer Products Corporation. Jill is Director of Engineering and Jack is Director of Procurement. Jill's group has been tasked with developing innovative product offerings. To support her engineers, she has emailed Jack three times in the past month asking for updated computers, she has yet to receive a reply, and she is very angry. She decides to confront Jack, but she wants to be respectful. So she plans out what she'll say, "Jack, I've asked three times for new computers for my team and I haven't heard back, what have you got to do that is so important you can't take the time to order the equipment?" This conversation is not going to go well. First, Jill thinks she's talking about facts, but what she is saying in the second line is not a fact, it is both an accusation and an implication that Jill's work is more important than Jack's. Let's say Jack has received the three emails and is facing two issues. One, his budget has been cut and although he has gone to the CFO on behalf of Jill's engineer's requests for computers, he has gotten a no. Two, he receives hundreds of emails a day, and for that reason implemented an order requests system months ago, that Jill is not following. He has decided to confront Jill, but he wants to be respectful, so he plans to say, "Jill, I don't know why you keep emailing me. Your department is no more special than anyone else who wants something around here, you have to follow procedures." That's not going to go well either. Again, it's an accusation, this time that Jill's behavior implies that she thinks she is more important than other employees. Notice that it doesn't matter what tone you use, it's about the story you're telling. Neither Jack nor Jill plan an opening to a conversation that will be about facts. What is the third story? Let's say Jack and Jill come to you, their manager asking you to mediate. You can start the conversation from a shared third story. You might say, I'm getting the idea that first, you have different ideas about how equipment should be requested. Second, it sounds like both of you want to find a way to get Jill's engineers the equipment they requested. Are those two interpretations accurate? This is not about what is right and what is wrong, there is no moral issue. There is no discussion about how the manager perceives either person's identity nor does the manager need to bring up how each person perceives the other's intent. Instead, these are facts that both Jack and Jill are fairly likely to agree upon. Now, this is not going to resolve the conflict immediately and it may not be the accurate third story for these guys. It is likely Jill will find the procurement procedure unwieldy. After all, had she followed procedure, her request would have been denied by Jack's boss anyway. But what the third story does is invite a joint exploration into how Jack and Jill can together not just request equipment, but persuade the CFO to fund those requests going forward. When you find yourself in a conflict situation or called upon to mediate a conflict between your employees, see if you can find an impartial third story, the one where both people can sign on to the facts. Look for areas of agreement. Before we conclude this lesson, here are a few tips to prevent unnecessary conflict. If you know a subject is likely to be contentious, or you're about to start a tough negotiation, start with what all parties value as an outcome, what everyone agrees is important. Before we discuss our resource allocation plans, let's remember that we all agree that both our current cash flow and our long-term future cash flows are important. Let's start this meeting with a quick reminder that we all want what is best for both our customers and our long-term financial health. Let's discuss staffing levels with those two goals in mind. As we meet today to choose which product design to implement, let's take a moment to appreciate the work both design teams have done to create a design that best converts our customer needs to product specs. Look for areas of agreement before stating what you disagree with, and use, and, instead of but. I agree we should put most of our resources towards serving our existing clients, they provide our current cash flow. I propose we discuss what we all might consider a reasonable amount of resources to put toward acquiring new clients to ensure the future. Nip little problems in the bud. We worry about making a mountain out of a molehill, but we don't have to make a big deal. A casual mention will go a long way to preventing a problem later. Team members are drifting into regular meetings a few minutes late. Someone can say without pointing fingers, we agreed starting meetings on time would be important to our team's productivity, what can we do to ensure we stick to this group norm? Teach your employees to resolve their own conflicts themselves. This does not mean absolving yourself of responsibility. It means a mix of modeling conflict prevention, and resolution behaviors, coaching employees through their conflicts rather than resolving them for them, and acknowledging other people's point of view. Saying, I hear you saying x is not the same as saying, I agree with x. When employees do come to you with complaints about their co-workers, do not assume you have heard half the story. You're getting one-third, maybe even a quarter of the story. Because the person speaking is telling you the story through their own lens. You need to listen carefully to them and to others to get the full situation. In summary, prevent task conflicts from becoming affective conflicts, so you don't end up in a downward spiral. Listen actively, assertively communicate, and deescalate if needed.