Relationships 2.0: How To Keep Conflict From Spiraling

    enOctober 31, 2022

    About this Episode

    When it comes to conflict, most of us just want to shut it down. But psychological research is increasingly taking a different approach to discord, with profound implications for disputes big and small. This week, we kick off our Relationships 2.0 series by asking: what if we stop trying to eliminate conflict and instead ask, how can we do conflict better?

    Did you catch our recent episode about how to make anxiety work for you? You can find it  here.   And if you like our work, please consider a financial contribution to help us make many more episodes like this one. 

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Conflict is an opportunity to learn and grow. Recognize the common trap of naive realism and practice open-mindedness, listening, and understanding to resolve conflicts and strengthen relationships.
    • Naive realism can cause conflicts in social reality, as it assumes our perceptions accurately represent reality. Maintaining eye contact during disagreements does not solve this issue, and can instead increase disagreement. Questioning our assumptions and biases is crucial in navigating disagreements.
    • Disagreement is essential for generating new ideas and creativity, but it can lead to damaging conflicts if not approached with an open mind. Organizations should prioritize healthy disagreement and avoid attitude conflicts to maintain positive relationships.
    • Disagreements can escalate and disrupt progress, but it's important to recognize that people are not enemies for holding differing opinions. Mitigating conflict can help achieve shared objectives.
    • Using the HEAR technique, which includes hedging, emphasizing agreement, acknowledging perspectives, and reframing positively, can make people feel heard and improve trust, objectivity, and professional judgment in personal and professional relationships.
    • Asking elaboration and follow-up questions during conversations shows interest and leads to positive effects, making people like their counterpart more. Practicing conversational receptiveness can have transformative effects on conversations and mediation skills.
    • Acknowledge, ask follow-up questions, and show genuine interest in others' perspectives. This promotes trust, respect, and problem-solving, making them more likely to seek your advice. Don't push your own opinions; it can lead to resistance and closed-mindedness.
    • Conversational receptiveness is a valuable tool in resolving conflicts and promoting mutual understanding. However, it requires ongoing practice and support to master, as demonstrated by an incident involving a psychologist who studies this approach.
    • When in conflict, take the time to understand your opponent's perspective. Rushing through conflict and using moralizing language can worsen the situation. Giving each other airtime can increase the chances of reaching a resolution.
    • By genuinely listening to others and being open to their point of view, conflicts can be resolved with reciprocity and thoughtfulness. In emotionally charged situations, it's okay to fake empathy for a better outcome. Focus on improving future conversations instead of immediate persuasion.
    • Being open to feedback and making positive changes can lead to personal growth and fulfilling career paths.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Embracing Conflict: Improving Relationships and Communication

    Conflict is a ubiquitous part of life but avoiding it can result in deeper animosity, hurt, and destruction of relationships. Instead of eliminating conflict, what if we viewed it as an opportunity to improve our relationships and communication skills? Psychologists are developing effective techniques to help people stuck in conflicts get unstuck. One of the key ideas is to understand that naive realism, or the belief that one's own perspective is objective and realistic, is a common factor in conflicts. By recognizing this, individuals can learn to listen to and understand other perspectives, leading to productive dialogue and resolution. Conflict needn't be feared, but rather approached with open-mindedness and a willingness to learn from others.

    The Pitfalls of Naive Realism and Eye Contact in Disagreements

    The idea of naive realism, which assumes our perceptions accurately represent reality, can lead to conflicts in social reality where reasonable people may disagree. This is because we make attributions for disagreement and assume the other person is wrong. One proposed solution was maintaining eye contact while discussing disagreements in hopes of triggering a biological liking. However, experiments showed the opposite to be true. Maintaining eye contact actually increased disagreement. This highlights the complexity of social reality and the importance of questioning our own assumptions and biases when navigating disagreements.

    The Importance of Disagreement in Organizations

    Disagreement is healthy and often enjoyable, but it can spiral into conflict when it becomes about changing the other person's beliefs instead of accepting them. The importance of the issue at hand can also play a role in how strongly people hold their beliefs and the potential for conflict. Organizations should strive for disagreement while avoiding attitude conflict to foster new ideas and creativity without damaging relationships. The study reveals that direct eye contact during disagreements can exacerbate the conflict, making it important to approach disagreements with curiosity and an open mind rather than a desire to win.

    How Disagreements Can Harm Common Goals

    Disagreements can spiral out of control and poison the waters on every issue, but people who disagree may still need to work together on matters of shared importance. Julia Minson, a psychologist at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, observed that people on different sides of a contentious issue might never change their minds. She warns against jumping to the conclusion that people who disagree with us are our enemies. A recurring argument between Julia and her husband highlights how conversations can spiral out of control. However, it is important to keep conflicts in one area from spiraling into places where we share common ground. Techniques to prevent this from happening can help people to work together productively.

    The Power of Conversational Receptiveness

    Conversational receptiveness is a technique that involves using specific words and phrases to show your counterpart that you're engaged with their point of view. The four-step process, known as HEAR, includes hedging, emphasizing areas of agreement, acknowledging the other person's perspective, and reframing to the positive. People love feeling heard, and using this technique can make them feel like their counterpart is really engaging with them. As a consequence, they think of those counterparts as more trustworthy, objective, and having better professional judgment. Conversational receptiveness can lead to positive interpersonal benefits in both personal and professional relationships.

    The Power of Conversational Receptiveness and Questioning

    Conversational receptiveness is contagious and the act of asking questions demonstrates curiosity and interest in the other person. Elaboration questions and follow-up questions lead to positive effects on conversations, making people like their counterpart more. The listening triangle, a mediation technique, is related to conversational receptiveness. Although it seems obvious to listen and show interest, knowing the right thing to do and actually doing it are not the same. Practicing conversational receptiveness can have transformative effects on conversations and mediation skills.

    The Power of Active Listening and Conversational Receptiveness in Conflict Resolution and Relationship Building

    Active listening and conversational receptiveness can diffuse conflicts and improve relationships, even in professional settings. Acknowledgement, follow-up questions, and genuine interest in the speaker's perspective can make them more likely to seek out your advice in the future. Pushing too hard for your own opinions and solutions can only lead to resistance and closed-mindedness. Research suggests that being receptive may even make you less persuasive, as it promotes trust, respect, and collaborative problem-solving.

    The Power of Conversational Receptiveness in Resolving Conflicts and Bridging Differences

    Conversational receptiveness can help defuse conflicts and allow people to work together even in the face of intractable disagreements. Research shows that training individuals to use conversational receptiveness led to a higher likelihood of the opposing side moving towards their perspective on hot button issues. However, implementing conversational receptiveness can be difficult, as seen in an incident where a psychologist who studies conversational receptiveness had a misunderstanding with a colleague. Despite attempting to use conversational receptiveness in her response, she found it challenging to remain receptive, and it was her husband who helped her pen a receptive email that resulted in a positive outcome. The incident highlights the need for ongoing practice and support in implementing conversational receptiveness.

    The Power of Understanding in Conflict Resolution

    During conflicts and disagreements, emotions such as anger and frustration often play a huge role in our inability to do the right thing, even when we know what the right thing is. The use of moralizing language can pour oil on the fire and make it harder for both parties to stand in the face of accusations. However, spending time expressing your opponent's point of view can make it more likely that you will be heard in turn. Rushing through conflict is a common mistake, often motivated by the desire to simply go home. By taking a step back and giving each other airtime, we can improve the chances of resolving conflicts effectively.

    The Power of Active Listening and Conversational Receptiveness in Conflict Resolution

    Active listening and conversational receptiveness are powerful tools in conflict resolution, triggering reciprocity and promoting a more thoughtful conversation. While it's ideal to genuinely feel empathy and openness towards others, in emotionally charged situations, it's okay to fake it in order to reach a better outcome. Conversational receptiveness is a toolkit to help people live up to their best selves and keep a conflict in one domain from derailing an entire relationship. Additionally, focusing on the next conversation and trying to make it better, kinder and more informative can lead to eventual persuasion, instead of being solely focused on immediate persuasion.

    The Power of Self-Reflection and Constructive Criticism

    Ritch Addison's story highlights the power of self-reflection and constructive criticism from others in personal growth. Despite his initial defensiveness, he took Holly's feedback to heart and made a conscious effort to change his biting humor and become more compassionate towards others. This shift not only had a profound impact on his personal relationships but also led him to a fulfilling career as a clinical psychologist and trainer. The story reminds us to be open to feedback and willing to make positive changes, even if it requires stepping out of our comfort zones.

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