from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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Dealing with Conflict

I have chosen this quote for this week’s focus because of the many examples we see daily of people having problems with conflict resolution. Whether it is fights on Jerry Springer, or mud-slinging in political campaigns, or simply arguments among friends or family members, I think it’s safe to say that often, “resolution” isn’t the goal of those involved. Instead, most people want to convince the other of the righteousness of their position, which ironically, almost always has the opposite result.

Therefore, the first thing we should do when we find ourselves in a conflict is to determine our goal… do we truly want to resolve the issue and come to some common understanding, or are we just tying to “win” or “be right?”

If resolution is our goal (and really why should it not be?) then it will be important to understand the role that understanding will play in the process. While this makes sense, have you noticed how rare this is, and how difficult this can be for many people? There are at least two reasons for this. First, few of us grew up with those in our lives modeling understanding as a necessary ingredient in conflict resolution. What we saw from our parents and teachers was the importance of obedience, or at the very least, giving in to those in authority. Secondly, many people are worried that their willingness to “understand” another’s position will be interpreted as agreement, and since they don’t agree, they can’t say that they understand.

In other words, understanding was not taught to us as a way to resolve conflict as children, and we tend to misunderstand it as meaning agreement, and this leaves most of us at a loss when we are trying to resolve conflict.

Instead, I suggest that we look at the value of understanding so that we can minimize the amount of conflict in our lives, and maximize our ability to deal successfully with others. The first thing understanding does is give us valuable information about why the other person is upset or resistant. Until we know this, our ability to successfully address their concerns will be minimal. Secondly, it deals with their fear that “we don’t get it,” and until they feel that their perspective has been heard and understood, they won’t be able to see our solutions as valuable.

On the other hand, when we are willing to “first understand and then be understood,” as Steven Covey suggested, we not only allow them to let go of the need to defend their position, we gain valuable insight into how we need to frame our solution so that they hear it as valuable. As we are doing this, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we agree with them. If someone tells us that they believe that Martians are controlling their brain waves, we can understand how that would be upsetting to them without needing to agree. In fact, a simple response, such as, “I can see how you would be upset by that,” or, “I can see how that would be important to you,” can go a long way towards laying a foundation for a more solution-focused conversation.

Therefore, if conflict resolution is truly your goal, I suggest you begin to practice this perspective of gaining understanding and acknowledging this understanding to those with whom you find yourself in conflict. And, who knows, if we become skilled at this process and teach it to those we love, they may grow up being much more skilled at interpersonal interaction and conflict resolution than we ever were.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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