6 Surprising Ways to Break Down an Adversarial Wall

Walls between people and parties sometimes come down quickly and sometimes take many years to dismantle. Walls can also quickly rise from the dust if new instances create tension again.

In managing conflict, the most effective strategies are often those that knock the other party off balance by being unexpected, contrarian, or counterintuitive. If ordinary, conventional conflict mediation approaches aren’t breaking down the wall between you and an adversary, try these six surprising ways to get their attention and eventual agreement instead.

It’s Me, Not You

Think first about how you contributed. Most people immediately go to all of the ways the other person created the conflict. If you take a first pass at how you contributed and think about what you said or how you acted that may have triggered the other person or escalated the tension, it accelerates your ability to get past the underlying shame or self-criticism you’re feeling, which many of us have underneath our anger or frustration. Once you own your part, you can look at their words and behavior to see how they added to the situation and be able to address it more directly and succinctly with them.

Ask Your Adversary To Be Your Mentor

Because we often dislike the person we’re in conflict with instead of disliking their behavior, it can be hard to consider this strategy. However, when you look to them for advice or ideas, you give them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge or expertise and feel powerful or helpful. This in turn can diminish their negative reactions to you. In particular, if you ask them for help with a situation that has dynamics similar to what you’re experiencing with them, they might inform you of ideas to change your own conflict. Or they might get a glimpse of what it feels like to be on the other side of the conflict (where you currently sit) because they’re thinking of a “different” situation and are not caught up in relation to you.

To Improve Hot Spots, Work In Cool Times

Many of us don’t think to deal with conflicts we have with people when we’re not in the heat of that conflict. However, if you can make the time and space for working on the conflict when you’re both cool and calm, you’ll make much more progress more quickly.

Talk About Your Talk

There are two tracks that are happening in conflict. There’s the content or the subject of our disagreement and there’s also the process by which we’re handling the conflict. Many times, the way we’re talking causes more tension that what we’re talking about. Resolving conflicts well entails separating the what and the how and addressing your perspectives and needs around both.

Use Demands As Clues

When you stop your reactions to someone’s demands and act more like a sleuth, you can develop an easier process for mediating conflict. Their demands are clues to what’s actually driving and motivating them and what their underlying needs are in the situation. Stop lobbing your own demands back at them and instead, become an investigator. Listen and then ask questions to help you understand their side of the story.

Jump On It

Begin to address the conflict sooner rather than later. For many people, conflict creates a fear reaction–and one’s instinct is to withdraw or avoid. If you consider that both parties often have the same feelings about addressing conflict, a more effective approach is to begin to address it as soon as possible after one party recognizes the tension, rather than waiting it out or hoping it will go away. The longer the parties are not speaking about it, the greater chance the conflict will escalate due to one or both parties making assumptions and misinterpretations about the other’s words or behavior.

Download 81 more strategies for managing conflict from Tear Down the Wall.

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