Do you want to argue?
Those who want to agree find ways, those who want to argue find topics!
Can people work together when the gaps between them are very wide and they have little understanding for each other? For example, when “militant” vegans meet “meat-eating” colleagues or air travellers meet people who would like to ban all air travel? In other words: on a personal level there are reservations, accusations, mistrust, and on a professional level there should be maximum successful cooperation. Can this work at all, and if so, how?
As a conflict manager and certified mediator, I can answer these questions with an unequivocal “yes”. Let’s take a closer look at the different dimensions of such disagreements.
Conflicts in the interpersonal sphere
If colleagues are sympathetic and like each other, such differences as “vegan vs. meat-eating” or “air travel vs. no flying” are usually “acceptable and can be resolved”.
However, if you don’t like your colleague anyway, perhaps because you think he or she is lazy, unfriendly or indiscreet, then the differences can become topics of dispute. Disputes that arise in this way have the function of proxy conflicts. It is also easier to say to a colleague, “I am bothered by your attitude to the topic of “eating/flight travel …” than to specify the “actual” topic, provided you know it yourself at all.
It often seems easier to argue about a secondary topic (marginal topic) than to find out what exactly the disturbing factor is. For example, if a colleague repeatedly unpacks a strong-smelling sausage sandwich and the smell is extremely disturbing to the colleague who eats vegan food. If, in addition, other subliminal issues burden the relationship, there is a much greater risk that the smelly issue will be brought to the fore and become the subject of dispute.
When people argue with each other on a purely human level, the investment in bringing in an outside expert is often much cheaper than long-lasting, expensive and time-consuming conflicts. After all, we almost all know how captivating the spiral of conflict is once you are in it yourself. And how far work can sometimes take a back seat as a result.
Often a free initial meeting with a mediator and conflict manager is enough to get a different perspective on the dispute and to be able to bring in some clarifying energy yourself. If colleagues disagree about factual, professional aspects and get into a conflict about it, I would advise them to turn to a professional before the company suffers damage due to the disagreement.
There are enough topics of dispute – common goals too?
Basically, you can argue about anything, you will always find bilateral views. The real question is whether one wants to argue or settle the matter peacefully and sovereignly.
When I am called to conflicts, I always ask relatively early on what goal the parties involved are pursuing. Do they have a common goal at all or do they find one when they talk about it, or are they interested in agreeing on a compromise? A possible goal could be: We want to work together and peacefully side by side and together in the future.
A second goal could be: We do not want to put our interpersonal, bilateral views and opinions in the foreground in the future, but rather to get our work done.
What Peter says about Paul …
If I am bothered by what my colleague is doing, it says more about me in the first place than about the colleague. True to the motto: “What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than about Paul.” In such a situation, I should ask myself the question: What is it really about?
By the way, this is the most important question with which all conflicts can definitely be clarified. Because precisely at the moment when the disputants understand what it is all about, the dispute is usually over – unless they want to continue arguing. Which may well happen, because people are also different in this respect.
A little more tolerance for the diversity in our world would often do us good. Why not simply ask how the other person arrived at his or her views or opinion? Why not ask instead of judging and condemning?
One’s own opinion is “only” one opinion among many other opinions. Why do people argue about different opinions and views at all? Maybe because they think their own opinion is right and the other opinions are wrong? In any case, there will always be differences and it is precisely these that make humanity so diverse. We can accept people who are not like us – or we can argue. But is it worth wasting one’s own and so valuable life time on negatively perceived issues? If we are in harmony with ourselves, rest in our centre and if we love what we do, then whoever wants to meet us, we will accept them as they are.
The most important tools for clarification: asking questions and listening
If people asked the right questions and listened, there would be more unity and peace. If people stayed in contact instead of remaining silent, there would be more clarification.
Asking questions and listening can work wonders in any conversation. Asking questions instead of assuming – this is the only way to be sure not to interpret or judge, but to really understand. But there are also significant differences in questions:
The why question is often at the beginning of an argument because it is often understood as an attack: “Why are you so late?” sounds like an accusation. “What happened to make you late?”, on the other hand, sounds much more open.
W-questions are purposeful questions and, used correctly, convey interest. They clarify and create transparency. By the way, there are no stupid questions, but at most unpleasant ones.
- What is your view of things?
- Why is it important?
- What is your view of things?
- When exactly did it change?
- Where is the difference?
- Who should be informed?
- And: How would you know that the conversation was successful?
Those who ask questions and listen, who act confidently and clearly and pursue the goal of wanting to resolve the conflict, will be successful. And for all other cases, it is advisable to seek professional advice. And to read the soon to be published German book “Streit der Weisen”. There you will find the exact instructions on how to resolve conflicts constructively.
If you want to exchange ideas with Stephanie Huber or if you are looking for support in resolving conflicts, you can easily do so via https://konsensation.de/ or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is happy to help and she is a good listener.
Stephanie Huber has published other articles here on the blog, including.
Stephanie Huber is founder and managing director of konSENSation GmbH. She works enthusiastically as a mediator with a focus on business mediation and conflict management and helps companies and executives to improve the working atmosphere.