Addressing Conflict: Approaching Conflict From a New Perspective

By: Ernie Staltare, Licensed Occupational Therapy Assistant, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Partial Hospital Program

Conflict is part of our daily lives. Beginning first thing in the morning, when some stranger cuts you off during your morning commute, conflicts arise throughout the day in the workplace, at home, with family and with friends.

There are many strategies to approach conflicts, but perhaps the one that is taught to nearly everyone from a very young age is, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” This expression implies that you should see the situation from the other person’s perspective in order to understand it fully and react appropriately. This is O.K. advice, but you could find even better perspective by taking it one step further: introduce a third party perspective.

Going back to the person who cut you off during your morning commute. Your reaction could include anger, agitation, frustration, and perhaps vengefulness. If you put yourself in the other driver’s shoes, you may think that this person could be in a rush because they’ve had a busy or bad morning, or perhaps they weren’t even aware that they were cutting you off.

Take a mental step back and look at the situation as if you weren’t involved.

The ideal outcome from that perspective would be for you to relax, forgive the mistake and move on. However, empathizing with this person can be extremely difficult because of the emotions you’re harboring toward the other person in the situation.

Enter the impartial third party perspective. Take a mental step back and look at the situation as if you weren’t involved. If you were a third driver a couple of lanes over and observed the situation, what would you think? In this situation you may admit to yourself that the third party wouldn’t think much of it. It was an inconsiderate move, but didn’t cause any harm so the third party wouldn’t give it another thought.

Looking at any conflict from the impartial third party perspective can:

  • Allow you to calm down. The more distance you can get between you and the incident, the more space you provide yourself to temper your emotional response.
  • Provide perspective. Oftentimes, the third party perspective helps you realize that regardless of who might be deemed right or wrong in the situation, the conflict is simply not significant. This prompts you to ask yourself, “Is it worth proving I’m right, or does it make more sense to move on?”
  • Unveil the best compromise. When looking at a conflict from two opposing perspectives, it’s difficult to find the best solution. The best solution may lie completely outside of either party’s purview.

Questions to ask yourself from the third party perspective:

  1. Is this conflict worth engaging in? Or might you benefit more greatly from agreeing to disagree or moving on?
  2. What is each party’s stake in this argument? For example, in a work conflict, might the outcome of the conflict have an effect on the person’s family life?
  3. Are there underlying causes of the conflict that haven’t been discussed?
  4. What is each person’s goal in relation to the conflict?
  5. Where might each person be able to compromise?
  6. Is there a fair and obvious resolution?
  7. Is the best solution to agree to disagree?
  8. Would it be helpful to bring a real impartial third party into the discussion?

This is one of countless tools that can help you with conflict resolution. Like anything, successfully handling conflicts requires knowledge and understanding as well practice. First you must learn the skills, and then apply them when necessary.