A Simple Conflict Resolution Technique: Focus on Behaviors not Intentions

Here is a simple technique that can make a world of difference in your everyday relationships and interactions. When you find yourself in a conflict, argument, or disagreement, make sure that you focus on the other party’s behaviors and try not to make assumptions about their intent, motives, or reasoning. When we focus on the other’s intent and motives, the other party will bring up a wall that we will need to bring down in order to find a resolution. When we do this, our disagreement quickly transforms and escalates into a conflict about ones character, and moral qualities. The other party will feel that he has to defend her reasoning and intentions rather than address in the behavior or problem. So why create an obstacle for yourself. By focusing on the other party’s behavior we have something tangible to discuss, and focus upon. Behavior is something that we can observe and measure, motives, and intent is not. Behavior is something that all parties can see and address, while motives and intentions are not.
For example, if your “significant other” is messy around the house, the best way to address this is to focus on the behavior. You may say something such as “I notice that you do not put your dirty clothing in the hamper.” The “putting away the dirty clothing” is something that we all can observe, and measure. We can show our partner examples of his/her behavior. This type of statement identifies an observable problem, and does not assign any reason, motive, or label to the situation. This statement gets right to the point and identifies the behavior in question. The statement or observation avoids an attack against the other’s character and creates one less thing that needs to be overcome.
In my practice I have seen many arguments escalate because the parties attempted to assign a motive or intent to the other party’s behavior(s). By doing so they built up obstacles between them and creating a new conflict regarding the others’ character, intent, and moral qualities. If they would have just addressed the behavior which they could quantify, they would have been able to resolve their issues much quicker and efficiently. So the next time you find yourself in an argument, or conflict, try to point our behaviors and stay away from assuming behavior. This technique will help to make you a great conflict resolver in all of your relationships.

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