In any workplace conflict or challenging discussion, the need to stand in someone else’s shoes is imperative to move a conversation forward. 

So how do we this, particularly when there is an unwillingness or lack of empathy to view the situation from another angle?

In most conflict situations, we are triggered by a value that has felt challenged, dismissed or threatened. We all have one or two values that we will go to great lengths to protect. 

This doesn’t mean we all hold the same importance to the same values. In fact, in most cases, when we lash out, it is because our colleague just isn’t on the same page as us. They just don’t agree with our point of view because their world view or values are very different. 

Showing understanding, doesn’t mean agreement

However just to be crystal clear, we don’t have to agree to understand. And this is where confusion can happen.

We want people to agree. We want affirmation that what we are saying is right. That they must consequently be wrong. 

But actually in conflict, we need understanding. We need to be able to appreciate how a comment or situation has angered or upset our colleague. 

We need to understand that this is how our colleague has experienced it. And this is the key. What we need is acknowledgement that an issue has caused frustration or fury. 

And this is vital to move a difficult conversation. 

 I have mediated many conflicts where one of the parties just can’t see what the big deal is!

So this is what I do. 

Look for mutuality. For some common ground. 

Feeling heard is the most powerful way to diffuse a conflict

It may feel like they can’t agree but usually they both want to feel heard and their perspective acknowledged which means they want their opinion or value respected. 

And here’s where the mutuality comes in. 

They BOTH want to be respected. 

So I might ask them what respect looks like to both of them. 

And then I follow this up with these 2 further questions they each need to consider. 

What he / she would like (from the other party)?

The answer to this might be for example… ‘I’d like x to stop raising his / her voice at me in meetings’. 

And then I ask the same person:

What he / she can offer (the other party)?

The response to this might be…. ‘In return, I will listen without constantly interrupting’. 

This process is then repeated with the other party.

With this tool, both colleagues have the opportunity for mutual respect and their unmet need is also being met. Their valued value is being acknowledged. 

So if you find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place and don’t know how to help colleagues see each other’s perspective, try this approach which will hopefully show them what it’s like to wear a different pair of shoes!