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We need to talk: Dealing with different opinions and conflict.

Kunstvolle Darstellung zu unterschiedlichen Meinungen

Conflicts and disagreements are simply a part of everyday life. In the DACH region alone, there are at least 100 million different views, perspectives, opinions, and ways of seeing things. And even though this may sell better during election campaigns or on the front page, there simply isn't one right solution to a problem. Our world is not black or white, not right or wrong, not A or B, but colorful, complex, and "something in between."

Now, of course, one can say: "Let everyone do as they please." Radical individuality and "Let's agree to disagree" as a means of conflict resolution, so to speak. However, as a society, we are only successful in the long run if we manage to agree on common rules and a direction from time to time. And so that this can succeed and we can even see conflicts as an opportunity for growth, here is a guide for your next conversation with someone of a differing opinion in six steps:

1. Accept disagreements.

When our views are not shared – or even worse, openly criticized – it causes emotional stress in us and we want to escape this situation as quickly as possible, often by adopting a defensive posture ("No, that's not what I meant.") or by counterattacking ("The pot calling the kettle black. You of all people..."). It's best to take a step back, breathe deeply a few times, and accept that someone has a different opinion. This is an absolutely okay situation and one that you can possibly even grow from.

2. Seek conversations - but in the right setting!

NNot every conflict can and must be resolved immediately. Sometimes it simply takes more time or a different setting. You have every right to postpone a conflict conversation to a later time or to another place. Because the right setting is essential for a successful conflict resolution.

3. Listen actively and ask open-ended questions.

"Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply." (Stephen Covey)

In disagreements, it's not always about having better arguments or more assertiveness, but rather about the willingness to see the world from the perspective of the other person. Not to gather information for a counterattack, but to look beyond one's own nose and to better understand the "other side." To do this, we must learn to really listen. One hundred percent attention. The usual voice in your head, which otherwise prepares the next counterargument, should instead come up with open questions (that can't be answered with yes or no) to better understand the other perspective.

4. Communicate your interests and needs.

You have held space for the other person to present their viewpoint and now you have a glimpse into the world from their perspective. Now it's your turn to share your view. Pay special attention to using "I" messages, in which you talk about yourself and your feelings, your emotions, and your desires. So avoid assigning blame ("You're responsible for this!"), generalizations ("Every time you do this..."), and conversation stoppers ("I already know how this is going to end."). It's about talking not about positions, but about interests.

5. Try to find a solution together.

More important than finding a common solution is the attempt to find a solution together. It may be that the perfect solution for both sides doesn't exist, but sometimes the journey is the goal. In conflict situations, two people are looking at the same problem – but from different perspectives. And this contains incredible potential. Both sides have probably thought about causes and solutions, but would rarely share these insights. Yet, this would be a way to find even more creative – and especially more satisfying for both sides – solutions. Creativity techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, or De Bono's Six Thinking Hats are ideally suited for this.

6. Find a clear conclusion.

Conflicts should be resolved not just externally, but also internally. If you don't feel comfortable with an agreed solution, then the conflict isn't resolved. As much as we want to return to our comfort zone, here we should be honest with ourselves and not prematurely declare the conversation over. Better to talk again about what both sides take away from the conversation and summarize your solution at the end to avoid misunderstandings in the final stretch.


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