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3-Step Strategy to Defuse Conflict: An Invitation to Make A Difference

When I was a classroom teacher, the first 9 weeks of every school year I took every single social/emotional situation that happened between the students and turned them into "teachable moments." I did not let one thing get by. I was rigorous in teaching my class how to become a high functioning caring, considerate, compassionate community. It only took 9 weeks (any 9 weeks will do) to basically get every conceivable issue worked through so they could focus on learning.

Later, when I began training teams in the corporate and business arena, I found 9 weeks worked in building sustainable momentum and synergy as well.

Every day we see something in the media that is showing us how we could be making a difference but may be feeling powerless as to how to have a positive impact in emotionally intense situations. This feeling of powerlessness may only mean that we know we are missing specific communication tools to be effective and to feel confident in defusing conflict.

You may have seen the Youtube video of last week's Republican Tea Party's Anti Health Care Protesters as they Mock a man with Parkinsons asking for help for others like himself.

Bob, the man with Parkinson's who was targeted by the Tea Partiers, sat down with ProgressOhio for an interview. He is 60 years old and was first diagnosed with Parkinsons 15 years ago. He has two masters degrees and a Ph.D. from Cornell. He taught at the University of Michigan and worked as a nuclear engineer. While all of this education may make the situation seem more extreme, what difference would it make if the man was uneducated, homeless, or anything else for that matter?

Bob was able to have a $150,000 surgery that greatly increased his quality of life, thanks in part to Medicare and the Cleveland Clinic. He attended the event in Columbus because he believes in giving back and thinks everyone should have access to affordable health insurance and quality health care. The wording he chose for his sign could easily be mis-interpreted to mean that he was asking for help for himself, and that he was thankful in advance for a cash contribution. But this does not excuse the behavior of the protesters who verbally abused him.

A Teachable Moment

If you haven't already seen it, and before you go watch it, I'd like to extend an invitation to SEE what is really trying to happen in this emotionally volatile situation following a simple 3-Step Strategy that I use for managing emotions ... that works to transform intense situations quickly:

Conflict3-Step Strategy

1- STOP - As you begin watching the video, stop and notice what happens to you emotionally. Does yelling trigger your fear and increase your pulse? Does it make you angry? Are you wanting to judge, label and call people hurtful names? Do you feel repulsed? Powerless? Hopeless? Do you feel like the only solution is to collapse and run away or attack back attitudinally, verbally, i.e., wanting to hurt somebody?

2- LOOK - Take a moment right now to take a deep breath. Now, look at this situation with non-judgmental eyes. What do you SEE now? Can you see what's actually needed to "align" the two sides of the equation into one? If not, wait a moment. Lean into what's happening. Suspend all judgment. Look again. Keep looking until you can regulate your emotions and heart rate. Notice Bob. While he appears to be the victim sitting peacefully, his communication choice is provocative.

3- LISTEN - Now can you HEAR what's really being said? While the men yelling at Bob are not only unskillful and hurtful, if you listen to what they are saying you can hear meaningful, helpful questions coming into your mind that could impact this situation tremendously, if asked. And what about Bob? Listen to what Bob is not saying by his decision to come right up to the line of men, sit himself down and assume the position of victim.

Did you see the man in the turquoise sweater come up and quietly talk to the first man that was yelling? Interestingly enough, the first man stopped mocking Bob at that point as soon as he was communicated with in a quiet manner. If you were there when this happened, and you peacefully stepped into the situation, what could you ask that would NOT be inflammatory - but would open a productive discussion?

Telling someone to not to yell and "calm down" only inflames the situation more. It’s like taking a toy away from a toddler having a tantrum as a way to punish him for having a tantrum. The tantrum only gets worse and lasts twenty times longer! The more you try to force control, the more out-of-control things will become.

What question comes to mind - from an AFZ: Attitude Free Zone - that would defuse the situation? Here's one of my favorite aligning questions:

"Help me understand what it is about a man, sitting himself in front of you to ask for help
that upsets you so very much?"

Notice this question sticks with factual description which acknowledges their point-of-view on this. This question also does not use the word: angry. The reason you want to use the word "upset" is that most people don't feel judged by it.

This one question, stated with very specific language, i.e., "help me" "understand" "man needing help" "upset" begins a more peaceful interaction with toddlers, tweens, teens and adults alike. This will lead to more understanding and productive dialogue.

As long as we need to judge, condemn and punish someone for their unskillful and/or abusive, fear driven behavior, we will not succeed at finding a way to deal with the underlying fear that can begin to align people with each other to create solutions that work for the greatest good.

Here is what happened:

We are not done yet.

Bob, in his desire to "make a difference" has chosen a method of communication that was passive and provoking. This is a form of communication that - as you can witness - is not helpful, effective or empowering. This does not condone the men's hurtful behavior, but Bob most certainly had an intention. Here are a few empowering questions for Bob:

"Help me understand what you wanted out this?
What did you intend to accomplish by coming directly up to this line of men,
sitting yourself down with your sign?"

Here is an interview done with Bob later:

I believe that everyone truly wants to Make A Difference, especially in situations like this.

We can all see how painful Bob's health plight is and all the more reason for him to be assisted into empowering behavior and communication especially in taking charge of his health.

We ALL know that situations just like this do in fact exist in our places of work, home and communities.

Whether it's politics, religion or education ... it's all about differences of opinion and how best - and effectively - we can come together to find NEW creative solutions to old, worn-out problems.

The solutions to all problems lie right-smack-dab in the middle of the problem. When we STOP, LOOK and LISTEN consciously and courageously, the realization that we are all wanting pretty much the same, fundamental things is what builds bridges.

And a final word about the inalienable Right Americans have to Voice Their Opinions...

Yes, we have that Right AND ...what the deepest part of you already knows is this: there is no excuse for abuse, and it's never OK to express your opinions in ways that you know fully will hurt others.

And last, but not least: a Rule of Thumb ...

BEFORE you hurl your opinion at someone, ASK them FIRST if they are OPEN to Your Opinion, i.e., criticism of them and/or what you feel you know-it-all about more than they do, even though you've never investigated or asked them anything directly, with an intention to understand and align yourself with them.

Once you've asked if they are OPEN to hearing Your Opinion: If they say, "No, I'm not interested in Your Opinion, i.e., criticism of me and why you think you know more about me than I do even though you've never asked me, or know me," then step away from the confrontation you are trying to engage them in and go vent to someone who cares about what is really upsetting you.

Here are just a few helpful sayings:

If there is a choice between being Right or being Kind... always pick Kind.

Be strong by bending.

A skillful person is an unskillful person's teacher.


©2010 Mary Robinson Reynolds, Heart Productions & Publishing


Mary ReynoldsMary Robinson Reynolds, M.S., Educational Psychologist, Author and Producer of the world renowned Internet videos, MakeADifferenceMovie.com and AcknowledgmentMovie.com - both amassing over 10 million views within a few short months of their releases - spent many years as a classroom teacher K-8 and then as a counselor K-12. She parlayed her phenomenal success with youth at-risk into her programs for business leaders, entrepreneurs and managers on how to be energetically effective in leading improvement in their organizations through the power of Team Synergy and MasterMinding. She has written eight books, developed UTrain&Coach programs that anyone can take into their place of work to build organization wide Team Synergy, and has presented to over 20,000 people in two year period in every major city in the U.S. To learn more go to: makeadifference.com

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