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How do you move people from conflict to consensus?
Conflict – we see it everywhere. Sometimes it’s called arguments, disagreements, differences of opinion, dissenting voices or opposition. At a societal level, it’s can be called riots or strikes. On a country level, it’s called war. I’d like to just talk about conflict at a personal or organizational level. Organization can mean just a group like a family or teams or community. Why does conflict arise in meetings, in the family or in a relationship? What causes us to disagree? It seems simple enough – because we have different views of the world. No two persons see the same thing the same way. You call it tomato, I call it Tohmahto. Each of us perceives differently because our perception is colored by our own set of filters. The filters are our previous experiences, our culture, our personality, our preferences, our values, our beliefs, et cetera. So, conflict inevitable isn’t it?
Well, that’s what I think as well. There’s always going to be differences of opinion. It adds spice to life. But if I want to foster consensus with a group of people, or with my family members or among team members with differing opinions about a particular topic or issue, what can I do? What can I do to nudge them towards consensus?
What is different about conflict versus consensus? Think about it. Comment about it. If I think about it, conflict is about differences of opinion. Consensus is about agreeing with a position or course of action and everyone is willing to go with it and support it despite disagreement. The key word with conflict is difference. What’s the keyword about consensus? What must I foster or create if I want to create consensus. The keyword that dawned on me is sameness or similarities. So, if I want to move people or individuals from conflict to consensus, I need to find a way to focus their attention and energy from differences to similarities. Instead of getting people to talk about what is different, ask them to consider or think about what is common between them? What common ground is there despite all the differences? What can everyone agree to? It may take some time, but if you focus the attention on searching for it, it should defuse the tension and get people to think sameness instead of differences.
Of course, this comes with skill and practice. But the principle is this – change or shift people’s attention from difference to similarities. Ask instead of tell. When I ask a question, it somehow compels people to think and find the answer because as humans, we are all hardwired to find answers when a question is posed to us.
So, if you’re faced with a situation in the future where you need to or required to moderate/facilitate conflict, think of this principle. It can prevent further escalation of conflict and potentially save relationships from being damaged.