How to Navigate Conflict | Jonathan Fields

So, when you think about conflict, What comes up for most people, conflict brings up all sorts of instant emotions, and usually they’re not good. It’s anxiety. It’s angst. It’s fear. It’s concern. It’s repulsion, rejection. We just want nothing to do with conflict. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Truth is, human beings live and think and feel and believe differently.

Sometimes we believe and see the same things, but other times we don’t. Sometimes it’s around really big issues that we feel are central to our lives. Sometimes the conflict or the disagreement or the different viewpoints, it’s around little tiny things, or maybe it’s deeply personal and it happens in a personal relationship or in a family or between friends.

Or maybe this shows up at work between you and colleagues, you and teammates or you and those you lead or those that you’re led by. And when this happens, the natural reaction is often to recoil, to backpedal, to pull yourself out of the moment or the interaction that led to conflict, to try to de-escalate it.

But what if there was a different approach? What if we could look at conflict and say, here lies an opportunity to create some understanding, some empathy, some engagement, and maybe even a resolution that feels good for both sides? How might we do that? Are there steps, are there ideas, are there methods and strategies and tools that would help us actually look at conflict and not have it floor us so readily?

But rather have us say, okay, this is an opportunity for me to actually step into it. I feel comfortable. I feel at peace. I feel considered and well-prepared. And let’s actually see if we can create something really cool out of this moment. That us exactly what we’re diving into in today’s solo episode.

I’m going to share what I think is a pretty different approach, ideas, and tools.

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photo credit: Nick Onken


Episode Transcript:

Jonathan Fields (00:00:00) – Your ability to persuade or resolve conflict in a way that is agreeable to you is almost always limited by your openness to being persuaded. When you think about conflict, what comes up for most people? Conflict brings up all sorts of instant emotions and usually they’re not good. It’s anxiety, it’s angst, it’s fear, it’s concern, it’s repulsion, rejection. We just want nothing to do with conflict. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Truth is, human beings live and think and feel and believe differently. Sometimes we believe and see the same things, but other times we don’t. Sometimes it’s around really big issues that we feel are central to our lives. Sometimes the conflict or the disagreement or the different viewpoints, it’s around little tiny things. Or maybe it’s deeply personal and it happens in a personal relationship or in a family or between friends. Or maybe this shows up at work between you and colleagues, you and teammates or you and those you lead or those that you’re led by. And when this happens, the natural reaction is often to recoil, to backpedal, to pull yourself out of the moment, or the interaction that led to conflict, to try and sort of de-escalated.

Jonathan Fields (00:01:28) – But what if there was a different approach? What if actually we could look at conflict and say, Here lies an opportunity to create some understanding, some empathy, some engagement, and maybe even resolution that feels good for both sides. How might we do that? Are there steps? Are there ideas? Are there methods and strategies and tools that would help us actually look at conflict and not have it floor us so readily, but rather have us say, okay, this is an opportunity for me to actually step into it. I feel comfortable. I feel at peace. I feel considered and well prepared. And let’s actually see if we can create something really cool out of this moment. That is exactly what we’re diving into in today’s solo episode. Yep, you just have me today around navigating conflict in a way that feels very different, and I’m going to share what I think is a pretty different approach. No matter what you’ve heard, no matter what you’ve been trained in and business and work, or maybe in just resolving conflict and personal relationships, I’ll be sharing some different ideas and tools.

Jonathan Fields (00:02:44) – So excited to dive into this with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. Okay. So let’s talk about conflict. And I want to start in a very different way than you’ve probably ever thought of. When we think about conflict, usually we think about people, we think about beliefs and values and all these different things, and they all matter. They fold into how we navigate conflict. But when I think about conflict, I often start with something that I call modes of engagement, because this plays a huge part in how we respond and also whether a particular conflict can even be handled in a constructive way. So here’s what I mean by modes of engagement. Every conflict involves four possible modes of engagement, and those modes are around scale. So mode number one is scale. What is the scale of this? Is it a 1 to 1 thing, right? That would be a certain scale, 1 to 1. So it’s just me and another person. Is it a one to some conflict? Maybe the conflict is arising between one person and a group of people or a community of people, or is it one to many? So maybe now we’re talking about actually a huge population or an entire society.

Jonathan Fields (00:04:16) – Like are we at odds with a much larger number of people? The scale at which the conflict actually is engaged in is critically important to how and when you might step into it in a way that feels constructive. So the first thing we want to look at is basically look at this and say, okay, think about a conflict that you may have on your mind or something that may be coming up that you feel may have some elements of conflict in it. And first, think about modes of engagement and think about the scale element of it. Is this going to be just one person and another person? Is it going to be one and some or one and many? And we’ll talk about why and how this matters in just a few minutes. So that’s the first out of the four different modes of engagement. The second one is what I call presence. So presence, is this likely going to be or is it actually unfolding in a way that is in-person or remote? And we know that the last few years have profoundly changed.

Jonathan Fields (00:05:22) – The presence element of the modes of engagement here used to be let’s take the work context. Almost every work, conflict or potential conflict, it happened in an in person type of experience. You are in a conference room, you were in a meeting, you are in a sales call. You’re just talking with somebody in the office. But generally everyone went to one place and within that place there was resolution, collaboration, creativity and also conflict. Now, sure, in before times, we also had the potential for conflict that would arise remotely because there were things like video and audio and we would have conference calls and certainly like they can arise in that way and we would have video. But what we now know is in after times that with so many people now working remotely, that certainly the norm for the presenting mode of engagement has been changed in a really meaningful way. So many more people are now actually distributed around the country, around the state, around the world, and the way that we interact on a day to day basis with them is not in person.

Jonathan Fields (00:06:36) – And the challenge with that is that we lose so much nuance and understanding and communication when we are not face to face. And yes, having tools that allow for real time video with high resolution and good audio quality, they help a lot. And we’ve all gotten a lot more comfortable with these apps and platforms and tools, in no small part because we’ve had to over the last few years. That said, it’s still, in my mind, not the same as being in the room with another person, right? So the difference between being face to face with somebody and engaging with them over a video call or any other mode of communication that is not face to face. It’s different. You lose something along the way. And that brings us to the third element of engagement. And I call this synchronicity. And what we’re talking about here is, is this happening in real time where it’s a synchronous conversation, one person saying something and the other person immediately responds, or is it spread out over time? That would make it asynchronous.

Jonathan Fields (00:07:48) – And an example of that would be texting or DMing, Right. So when you’re. Actually sitting down across the table with somebody, you’re having a conversation. That would be what we call synchronous. One person says something, the other person responds, That person says something. The other person responds. Imagine for a moment if you had two people sitting at a table and you took on the mode of interacting, of texting. So think about it. One person says something, right? Imagine that is a text now before the other person responds. They think to themselves, Huh? What does that actually mean? What’s the most appropriate way to respond here? Maybe I need to actually text a couple of friends to say what just was texted to me and then figure out how to respond to that. And there aren’t any emojis, so I don’t really understand like what was going on here. Now imagine if people interacted like that in person or someplace like just pausing and taking a couple of minutes and maybe texting a couple of friends and then looking back to the other person saying, well, here’s what I think about that.

Jonathan Fields (00:08:54) – And then the other person’s like, okay, they made it asynchronous, but in person it would be bizarre. And yet that is how conversations now unfold than texting and DMing all day, every day. So the difference between real time or synchronous and spread out over time or asynchronous is really important in how we navigate potential conversations or moments of conflict. Because when we are face to face with somebody synchronous real time, we often don’t have the ability to both really think through what we’re going to say or share or up or down, regulate our nervous system or up or down, regulate our emotional response. We’re face to face, probably much more likely that if you get triggered, you’re going to respond immediately in a triggered state. Whereas if that’s happening, that exact same conversation in an asynchronous mode, be it any form of messaging, you’re much more likely to both be able to hit, pause, reregulate your emotional system and think what is the constructive response to this? So it both creates issues by spreading it out over time, because sometimes we also lose nuance in those types of communications and we start to bring all sorts of things into it that are not just us in the conversation, but it also creates certain possibilities or opportunities that lets us potentially better moderate our responses and regulate our emotional reactions along the way.

Jonathan Fields (00:10:28) – And that brings us to the fourth mode of engagement when we’re talking about a potential conversation where conflict may arise. And that is the level of exposure, right? And what I’m talking about here is how private or public is this interaction? Is it two people sitting in one room with nobody else there, no cameras, no microphones, no crowd, no one to overhearing or is it actually in a public forum? Are you two people who are actually on a debate stage or maybe you’re sitting on a stage in a conversation or maybe you’re in a conference room surrounded by teams of people on either side? Or maybe this is unfolding over social media in a very public way, and that can spin in so many different directions. So these four different modes of engagement, there are things that I really like to think about when there is a potential for a conversation to bring conflict into it. Scale, right? Is it 1 to 1, one to some, one to many presents in person or remote synchronicity is happening in real time or is it spread out over time and level of exposure? Is it private or public and how private and how public? And the thing is, each one of these different modes of engagement when it comes to conflict, it has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Jonathan Fields (00:12:01) – And I think I shared some of those with you already. They can kind of blend sometimes also to make it either much easier to resolve conflict or make it near impossible to resolve conflict. So let’s walk through each in a little bit more detail and then I’ll share my guiding principles and what I call my seven rules of engagement when it comes to navigating conflict with ease and the intention of a constructive outcome. So that scale 1 to 1 thing, right? Or one to some or one to many. The more intimate I found in any conversation that holds the potential for conflict, the easier it is to speak to the unique needs and really pick up nuance. So we get to avoid the sort of crowd mentality, the posturing for belonging or. Power and potential of mal intended actors. The when we bring it into a more intimate scale. So when we’re in one to many the likelihood of one or some in that many group actually not picking up on what’s really happening, being there with your own agenda, that has nothing to do with wanting to actually cause disruption or pain on the other side simply because you have the ability to do it and having a lot fewer stakes because you’re sort of like one in a crowd of many, the opportunity for that to happen and then sort of derail a conversation that could potentially resolve and really great understanding, mutual understanding and a constructive outcome, it tends to the likelihood of that going off the rails goes up dramatically.

Jonathan Fields (00:13:45) – Large scale conflict resolution, when large numbers are involved, almost always becomes a representative process. Only a few people in the room is the only way to actually resolve things. So when you think about that first thing scale, when it comes to any type of conflict, I often think, how can I bring this down as close as possible to the experience of being 1 to 1, right? Because when you are 1 to 1 or something close to it, even if those one to ones are representing groups of people, you have two individuals who are in conversation where the likelihood of all sorts of other things being brought into it goes down dramatically and the likelihood of misconstruing or misinterpreting both the spoken words and the non spoken communication goes down dramatically. Right? Because you’re minimizing the variables effectively and you’re maximizing the opportunity for true conversation and understanding. Now, of course, if you have 1 to 1 and those two people show up and their agendas are largely to just cause harm to the other person or they’re incredibly dug in and they have absolutely zero intention of openness or empathy or understanding or trying to actually come to a genuine resolution.

Jonathan Fields (00:15:14) – It’s not going to matter. It’s still going to not be effective. But when you can actually have two people or make it as intimate as possible and the intention is, let’s actually meet this moment, let’s meet this potential for conflict and see if we can genuinely resolve it. I find that the more you can bring the scale to a level of intimacy, the more likely you are to actually be able to have that conflict resolve and really meaningful and constructive and helpful way. Let’s talk a little bit more about that second element presence. And again, remember, this is about is it in-person or is it remote? Now, I increasingly believe that as good as the tools that we have now are to be able to actually see body language and hear spoken word and hear nuance that in person is still the mode that we are aspiring to most because it’s it’s harder to dehumanize another person to attribute intent that is not truly there to not see them and their value just and their dignity as human beings when they are actually breathing and having a conversation and taking up space side to side or face to face with you in the same place.

Jonathan Fields (00:16:32) – It is, in my experience, a qualitatively different experience than even if you were having that identical conversation over a video conferencing call. We like to think we’re so comfortable with it now and the tools are so great and we can really see those beautiful, crisp cameras and fantastic microphones that convey everything. And it’s a lot better than it used to be, no doubt. And we’ve all been trained to be much more comfortable in these virtual spaces. Still, it is not the same, right? Because we can miss a lot of signals. And the other thing that tends to happen, and I am as guilty of this as anyone else, is that even when we are watching a video, even when we’re on that call with somebody and we know they can see us and they can see us and we both have our microphones turned on pretty safe. Bet that one or both of you also have other windows open on your devices or other apps opening your devices. And you are never, never 100% or anywhere close to 100% attentive to the conversation at hand.

Jonathan Fields (00:17:37) – You pretty much always have some kind of distraction happening in the background that will pull you off course or make you miss something that was said or conveyed or some nonverbal communication that was really critically important to understanding the underlying intent of a person. Because for. Just a heartbeat. You glanced over to that messaging app and you’re like, Oh, this little thing just came in or there’s a ding that happened, right? Or you’ve got social media open somewhere in your computer. So even given how much better the tools and the apps and the platforms have become, A because we still lose something when we’re not face to face, you cannot 100% capture what happens. And because, B, most people are actually going to have some level of partial and sometimes majority distraction because they have other things going on, the very same device and screen that they’re using to engage with you. It’s just not the same. So the more that we can actually invite conversations that have the potential to conflict to happen in person way, in my experience, the more likely you are to really have two people more focused, more present, more engaged, more paying attention to what’s really going on in the room, and more likely to be in a position to resolve this conversation, this conflict in a way that is filled with dignity, empathy, understanding and resolution transfers the greatest amount of information, hard and soft, macro and micro, so we can get to a place where we feel better about how the conversation is actually unfolding.

Jonathan Fields (00:19:18) – The other thing that I would add to this is that in in-person setting versus a remote setting, depending on the circumstances, vulnerability or the level of vulnerability that people are willing to step into can often change sometimes. And this is interesting because it depends on the person. What I found is that for some people, actually being remote allows them to step into a place of more openness and vulnerability, which is a little bit counterintuitive. You think if you’re face to face with somebody in person, you’re sharing space and you’re having this conversation, you’re kind of like and it feels safe to you. Always important that you would be more likely to then say, You know what, I got to tell you, here’s what’s really happening with me and here’s how I’m feeling about this. And it’s affecting us. It’s affecting the way that we interact. It’s affecting this particular project or idea or interaction or engagement. And I want you to know that now some people are going to feel that face to face. Other people, what we’ve seen are actually going to feel like if they’re checking in from the safety and the comfort of their own curated, cultivated space, that safety will transfer into the conversation in a way where they would feel uncomfortable if they were not in their space, like in a conference room or some sort of other shared space or mutual ground.

Jonathan Fields (00:20:44) – Right. So it’s kind of important to gauge how people step into safety and of the folks who are in a conversation that may involve conflict, what does this setting in person or remote that is most likely to lead to the safety on all sides needed to lead to mutual vulnerability, openness and honesty that will then cultivate or plant the seeds the greatest opportunity for true understanding and resolution. So think that through a little bit and think about it in your own personal context, because it probably affects you as well. So let’s dive a little bit deeper into that third mode of engagement and how it can affect how we navigate conflict, and that is sync, synchronous versus asynchronous. And remember again, this is is it actually happening in real time or is it unfolding spread out over time? And it kind of seeded this a little bit. So I won’t spend a ton of time on it. On the plus side of an asynchronous conversation, it allows space. Now, space can be good or bad, right? If somebody let’s say this whole thing is unfolding as a series of emails or a series of DMS or a series of audio or phone messages, do people even leave those messages anymore? It’s very old school, right? But let’s say that’s how it unfolds, or maybe even a series of video message that get passed back and forth.

Jonathan Fields (00:22:14) – There are so many apps now where you can actually just hit a button and record a quick video or a quick audio and it gets sent to the other person. So these are all happening all the time, all around us. Asynchronous is not just text now. It can also be audio and video. The primary feature of the asynchronous mode of engagement is it happens over time and there is space between the different parts of the conversation. Now on the plus side, if we’re triggered, if there is an emotional response, if we’re just in a really tough state or having a tough day, and there are things that we would bring into the conversation that might not be constructive, having nothing to do with the conversation or the person, but just because. You’re poorly slept. There’s a lot of stress in your life. There are things going on at work that are really bothering or upsetting you or you’re in the middle of some big deal and you’re just wildly distracted. Right? Having the conversation unfold asynchronously may actually give you the time to be able to come back to a place and respond in a way where you have the space and the time to down regulate your emotions, to get centered, to be not distracted, to actually spend some time really thinking through, you know, beyond my immediate knee jerk reaction, what’s the healthy, what’s the constructive response that really moves this conversation forward, even if it’s a tough conversation where there is conflict in the center of it? What is the positive and constructive response to this? Right.

Jonathan Fields (00:23:42) – And then you can take your time to formulate that and then step into the conversation. That way it allows you to be more responsive and less reactive, and maybe both sides to feel safer along the way, which leads to more honesty and openness, right? So on the plus side, we actually have this all amazing stuff, like the big thing being the ability to respond rather than react. That’s if it’s asynchronous now. But what about the negative side? On the negative side, the extended duration can often lead to less genuine responses, less honest thoughts being centered, less vulnerability and less humanity being brought to the process. What I mean by this is that when things happen over time, they get extended out, right? Instead of just when we react immediately to somebody. Sure, it may be triggering, it may be emotional, it may show the level of underlying stress that you have, but at the same time, not actually taking time to prepare what you’re saying. Can bring more honesty. It can reveal more of the energy of what’s really happening, of how emotional you are, of how deeply vested you are in this particular conversation or topic.

Jonathan Fields (00:25:09) – When you strip that away, when it becomes asynchronous and you have the time to pull that out, sometimes people don’t really understand the level of honesty and vulnerability and emotion and conviction that you may have in a particular thing, right? It gets dialed down often. That’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s not. It also sometimes allows people to sort of like be a little less human and a little bit more planned and robotic. And that’s not always the best thing because it sometimes doesn’t it conveys more calmness and thoughtfulness, but sometimes it also loses nuance. And there’s one other thing that can tend to happen that’s a negative when things are asynchronous versus synchronous spread out over time. And that is there’s a greater opportunity for manipulation when something’s happening in a conversation as synchronous face to face, you’re just talking it out like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, back and forth. A lot of times you’re just you’re in it, you’re conversational. You’re not sitting there thinking to yourself, how do I frame the thing that I’m about to write or say in a way that is most likely to get the response that I want? When you are doing it in an asynchronous way, there’s a much greater opportunity to do this.

Jonathan Fields (00:26:18) – Now, this can be positive or constructive if it leads to a great outcome, but it also introduces more of an opportunity for manipulation. So these are things that you want to think about when you think about asynchronous versus synchronous. My preference as a general rule is I tend to prefer when something is really going to be a topic that involves conflict to make it synchronous, because I just want to talk it out in real time. And if some things come out that are more reactive than responsive, then I’m okay with that. But then again, I’m also going to take pauses during that conversation. I’m going to be looking for all sorts of cuz I’m going to be using the seven tools that I’m about to share with you to really navigate this conversation with more openness and spaciousness and ease. But if you can’t do it, just know that there are positive and negatives to the asynchronous mode of conversation. And again, that wraps us fourth mode level of exposure. Talked about this a bit already public versus private. How intimate is it versus how public is it the risk of it being public? The more public it becomes, the more opportunity there is for it to become performative and not actually honest and constructive.

Jonathan Fields (00:27:28) – People are thinking about not just how do I resolve this thing with one other person or a small group of other people, but how am I appearing in this group of other people? What social currency or credit am I getting? Am I increasing my opportunity to belong or am I decreasing it and increasing actually the chance to be kicked out of this particular community that I really want to be a part of. So. The chance of it being much more performative. Having all sorts of other agendas at play when it’s more public comes into it. It also plays into the ability or the desire for people to be seen as saying things that are consistent with prior things that they said, which can be a good thing if the prior things are healthy and constructive and leading to resolution can also be a bad thing if those prior things are actually proven to be wrong and off base and destructive to the conversation at hand. And yet somebody wants to be seen as acting consistently with them in a public forum. So they’ll just keep digging in even when they know, and pretty much everyone around them knows this actually is no longer the way that we should be stepping into this conversation.

Jonathan Fields (00:28:38) – And there are other motivations at hand. It tends to be harder to create genuine psychological safety that is needed for honest, open and vulnerable conversations. The more public a conflict becomes, it kind of blows up the notion of psychology or safety. And the problem is that psychological safety is needed for most people to get to a place of genuine resolution. That again, is not about public performative resolution, but about true 1 to 1 or small numbers of people. Let’s take on this topic or issue and really come to a point of resolution with it. So my preference is always, when possible, take it as private as you can. Not because we’re trying to hide anything from the light of day. Truth should be told and known, but because it becomes exponentially harder to reach a genuine resolution, the more public it becomes because it often becomes so much more performative and there are so many other agendas and motivations at play that are not actually central to the issue. Right? Social media is an example of one to many remote, asynchronous and public that can be both good and bad anonymity that is associated with social media.

Jonathan Fields (00:29:54) – Also often denigrates dignity and humanity. So that can really weave into this cancel culture when it becomes big and public and social media based. And there’s a huge opportunity for toxicity and conflict and calamity. So really, the more that we can think about bringing this into the most intimate possible level of exposure, like the more private versus public, simply because the opportunity for resolution is so much better. So that’s sort of like this macro lens of how I think about conflict. Before I even step into the conversation, before I think about the rules of engagement. But now it’s time to actually get to those rules engagement. Let’s dive into these because I think they’re critically important. Once we actually say it’s time to sit down at a table or over screen and actually do this thing called having a conversation where the potential for conflict is high or pretty centered. There are seven sort of like rules of engagement or tools that I think can be super helpful in having these conversations in a way that will both make you feel more at peace and at ease.

Jonathan Fields (00:31:02) – Allow those on the other side of the table from you to feel more at peace entities and seeing and understood and lead to more genuine resolution. So let’s kind of walk through these seven different rules of engagement for handling conflict with greater ease. Number one is around absolute statements to the extent that we can, we’re really looking to avoid absolute statements. Now, what are absolute statements? These are phrases like, for example, you always it’s always been it never is this way. You never do this right. Examples would be every time I say this thing or every time I do this thing, you always respond in this really negative and harsh way. Now, why would you want to avoid absolutes even if you feel in the moment that that may be the reality? The reason is because absolutes are almost never true. See what I did there? By the way, I didn’t say absolutes are never true because that itself would be an absolute and that could be proven immediately false when I say they’re almost never true, now I’m taking the absolute away from it.

Jonathan Fields (00:32:23) – And what that does when you say an absolute is it gives the other person a misstatement to focus on rather than dealing with the actual issue. So if you say, for example, you never take the garbage out every single day, it’s your job to take the garbage out. We both agreed, I do this, I do that, and you are the garbage person and you never take the garbage out. Right now, when we use an absolute like that, automatically the other person is seeing themselves beyond feeling attacked, the other person saying themselves, That’s actually not true, because last Tuesday I took the garbage out. And what they’re doing is instead of focusing on the issue of like, why why is it that I don’t often take the garbage out when I said that I would, what’s actually going on? What’s the underlying thing here? They then get to focus on the fact that you just used an absolute that can be easily proven to be not true, which both discredits you and also gives them the opportunity to shift focus to something that really doesn’t matter as a defense mechanism rather than dealing with the actual issue at hand.

Jonathan Fields (00:33:44) – So the issue here generally isn’t that somebody isn’t taking out the garbage. The issue is why, if we agreed that like we both were going to say yes to certain things because we love to have a house that feels clean and comfortable and somebody does the dishes, somebody does this, somebody like males things and another person takes out the garbage. What’s going on here where somebody is not always but fairly often breaking their commitment to themselves and to me, and let’s have a conversation about that, because then that might lead to a conversation where it’s like, you know what? You’re right. If instead I said a part of our agreement about just how we keep the house running, well is that, you know, I do this and that. You take out the garbage. But I’ve noticed that like a lot of times you actually don’t do it. Now, that other person can say they can’t say, Well, there’s this one time that I did because now we’re not actually using the absolute. We’re just saying a lot of times and they’re going to hear that statement and say, that’s kind of true.

Jonathan Fields (00:34:44) – And then rather than getting defensive and making it about like showing the one example where they did, now we can actually have a conversation that says, Well, I’m wondering why that’s happening. Like what’s going on? Do we need to reassess the allocation of responsibilities here? Do we need to somehow change it like or is there something going on with you with what’s going on like and maybe that lead to a conversation where somebody says, you know what, you’re 100% right. I said, I would do this and I’m just not doing it as often as I committed to. I think I’m doing it just because I realize I really miscalculated how often I’m going to be home in time to do it. Just my commute is a lot longer. The hours at work have been a lot longer than I thought about it, and by the time I get home just so wiped out that I usually honestly just forget about it or I’m just so exhausted I don’t feel like doing it. Or maybe I’m just so stressed out. So this can lead to a conversation about the actual issue at hand and the underlying why, which is always really important, right? There’s always what’s happening on the surface and there’s always subtext, and conflict is almost always resolved at the level of subtext, not surface, because that’s the real underlying thing that needs to be addressed.

Jonathan Fields (00:35:57) – So avoiding absolutes allows you to bypass the defenses that absolutes trigger and take you off the rails and away from the issue. Let that go and just focus on the issue itself. That brings us to rule number two. Ask yourself what info is actually embedded in an argument. Or emotion and is it valid or useful? What might I not be open to hear? What can I learn about the topic of conflict or the person or perspective? And this is again, this is now where we start to get to the level of subtext. What tends to happen in any conflict is somebody basically surfaces like, here’s what’s going off the rails. Here’s where we don’t disagree, here’s what I need to happen. And then another person is like, I see totally differently. This is what I see going on. Different set, like same set of fact, but I see it totally differently. Here’s what is important to me about it. Here’s what I need to happen, which is different because we see the facts differently when you operate at that surface level, just like the basic stuff going on, it’s fine to start there, right? But conflicts are almost never resolved on the level of surface level information that is passed there.

Jonathan Fields (00:37:12) – Resolved. When people actually go a level deeper and ask themselves what’s really happening here? What are the real facts? Is my interpretation true or not? Is their interpretation true or not? And if either one of us is interpreting them in a way which is different, why might that be happening? What information is embedded in an argument or emotion and is it valid or useful? So if that person is responding saying, I see the facts totally differently, this is actually what happened. Right. And they’re getting emotional about it and they’re getting argumentative about it. You can kind of think to yourself, okay, so rather than just feeling attacked and like responding and backpedaling or being getting more aggressive and escalating their energy and their emotion because they’re not well regulated, what if you actually just pause for being and in your head said, So what information is actually being conveyed to me here that is beyond just the surface level argument? What is the emotion and is it valid or useful? What information is in that emotion or or their interpretation of the facts? What is that telling me? And then asking yourself, what might I be missing? What might I not be open to hear? What can I learn about the topic or conflict? A person that might help me resolve this that is not being expressed.

Jonathan Fields (00:38:25) – So we’re looking for what’s underneath the surface level conversation. And the more that you can tune into that, the more you can keep asking yourself what’s really happening here? The more you can actually step into it in a way that will bring a resolution that’s better. I’ll give you kind of a fun example. Many, many, many years ago in a past life when I was a lawyer sitting in a government room taking investigative testimony under the cover of secrecy. I was totally young. Maybe a couple of months into this job, I kind of had no business doing this probably yet. You know, in these jobs, you get thrown in really fast. And I had a witness on the other side of the table. I had a court reporter there like transcribing this or recording it. And then it had their lawyer, the witnesses lawyer, who was very senior, very, very experienced and also very well known. We got a couple of minutes into this and I was asking questions and the witnesses lawyer starts saying, this is not appropriate.

Jonathan Fields (00:39:19) – Like these questions are completely like, tell her to this thing, blah, blah, blah. And and he’s going at me, you know, on the surface, he’s going at me. What he’s saying is like basically like you’re not asking questions that are relevant to this. You know, like you have no right to ask this. Now, something inside of me and I still to this day don’t understand why I did this. Like since then, I have like a very long standing mindfulness practice that allows me to do things like this on a fairly regular basis. At that time I didn’t. But this thing happened where in that moment, normally I would have either like we call me like, Oh man, I’m like a newbie, I’m green. I’m being totally attacked by the senior guy who’s just brilliant and smart and being super aggressive to me. I’m freaked out. I’m going to meltdown or I like gone back at him. Something inside of me said, What’s really happening here? What’s really happening here? What’s happening underneath the surface level, stuff that’s coming across the table to me.

Jonathan Fields (00:40:11) – What is the subtext? I almost zoomed out and it was like I was looking down in the situation and saying, okay, huh, this is interesting. Either he’s genuinely enraged by the question I’m asking, but I don’t think so because they’re pretty straightforward. The other thing that might be happening here is that he sees that I’m young, that I’m really new to this, then I’m probably a little bit uncomfortable, maybe even shaking a tiny bit. And he’s just trying to rattle me. This is a game to him. He wants to see if he can throw me off my game. At which point I said, okay, let me test this theory. So I basically said off the record, looked at him and I said, I’m representing the government and this paraphrase, I don’t remember the exact language. I’m leading this conversation and this investigative testimony. In my mind, this is very relevant to what we’re trying to get at here. And if you have a problem with that, there’s a phone on the table over there.

Jonathan Fields (00:41:08) – Let’s call the judge right now. Waited a couple of beats. Opposing counsel looked at me and said, okay, no problem, let’s go back on the record. And we were fine. That all happened because for a heartbeat I stopped looking at the surface level stuff and I asked myself, what’s really happening here under the surface? How do I respond to that in a way that is most likely to lead to construct a resolution? And that brings us to our third rule of engagement, and that is your ability to persuade or resolve conflict in a way that is agreeable to you is almost always limited by your openness to being persuaded. So this is a little bit weird and a little bit counterintuitive, right? But think about this. If you go into any conversation or any conflict with a completely closed mind and a logged in agenda and zero willingness to actually think about your own position, the shields will immediately go up. And if both of you show up this way, both of your shields go up. And if you have a team of people who show up this way, all of the shields will go up and you both lose.

Jonathan Fields (00:42:21) – It almost guarantees that not only will you escalate, but you will never come to any sort of resolution that is meaningful or constructive or healthy for any party. Right. Because we go in and at the only thing that we’re looking to do is basically knock the other side into succumbing to our demands and not even listening to what they’re saying. And especially the subtext, again, what’s underneath, what they’re saying and what’s the real thing that’s going on here? And can we speak to that? But if we go in solely with the intention of being persuaded and zero zero openness to hearing the other side listening intently and considering what they’re actually saying and being open to assuaging ourselves, we basically set the table for a destructive interaction. If we go in, on the other hand, with a desire to learn more about the topic, the issue at hand, the person or the group of people, if we ask lots of questions and the shields tend to stay down long enough for you both to more easily, not just potentially understand the other side, but see each other’s humanity, which is so important in any interaction that involves conflict, then that sets the stage for things to change, that sets the stage, or at least for the possibility of not only a more easeful conversation, not only a conversation that is steeped in more openness, humanity and dignity, but also one that leads to genuine resolution, right? So it’s all about actually being open to it.

Jonathan Fields (00:44:05) – Now, does that mean that you have to go in and say, I’m going to sit there and just let them persuade me of their point of view? No, but what it means is if we go in and say rather than my point of view is the only point of view, it is the only right point of view. And I will hear nothing that in any way, shape or form counters that if instead of that, we go in and say, I believe strongly in my point of view, I believe it’s important. I believe it’s based on sound information and deduction and that it is the right point of view. But even so, even if the other side disagrees with me, I want to understand why they disagree with me. Right. Because maybe there is something I’m missing. I don’t think so. I’m pretty confident in my beliefs and my point of view, but I still think it’s valuable to at least understand what led them to their point of view. We’re arguing about the same set of facts, but they see it very different.

Jonathan Fields (00:45:07) – So I want to understand why they saw it really differently. And at the same time, I’m going to hold myself open to actually listening and really paying attention. And if they actually share a whole bunch of ideas, a set of facts that are contrary to my beliefs, I’m going to keep myself open to the possibility that I might reconsider at least certain parts of my point of view. If we don’t step into a conversation like that, if the only agenda is to hold 100% fast everything and persuade the other side and not be open to listening and to understanding, and then the other side steps in the same way, it is basically game over. There is zero opportunity for resolution. So this is one of the things that we wanted to bring to that conversation. Also openness to the conversation, the opportunity or the openness to being persuaded as well as persuading again doesn’t mean that you just automatically accept what anyone else says. But it’s an openness to trying to understand what brought them to that place where they see the same facts from a different point of view.

Jonathan Fields (00:46:14) – That is where really engaging, constructive conversation. And takes root. That brings us to number four in the Seven Rules of Engagement. And that is notice what’s being said non-verbally and respond to that as much as to what’s being spoken. So this is a much more straightforward rule. The majority of our communication is non-verbal. And those cues, those unspoken cues often give us much better Intel about how to direct the spoken conversation and how another person is actually feeling and receiving ideas and emotions. But we tend not to pay attention to it. Again, this is where we’re going, beneath the surface. If so much communication is nonverbal, it’s body language. It’s somebody who’s breathing pattern. It’s the twitch in somebodies eye. It’s the furrowing of a brow. It’s a snort instead of a gentle breath. It’s leaning forward in a chair rather than leaning back. It’s the crossed arms rather than the open hands on a table. It’s the hands underneath the table, which, by the way, we perceive as thread rather than hands over table, which by the way, we perceive as safety.

Jonathan Fields (00:47:32) – There are so many nonverbal cues that happen in every conversation, let alone conversations that hold the potential for conflict. And we want to be paying attention to those cues as much as we’re paying attention to the verbal ones because so much more information is conveyed. And here’s the thing. The information that’s spoken, barring the emotional outbursts, is usually information that is planned to be spoken. It’s prepared in advance. If somebody’s really studied in conversations that involve conflict, they have all sorts of like blocks of things that they’re going to say. They know actually how to navigate the spoken part of the conversation, the things that are conveyed non-verbally, the body language, the movement, the breath. Those are often the things that are less controlled, people are less aware of. They just sort of happen. So if you learn to actually speak the language of non-verbal communication and receive all the cues, what you’ll end up doing is picking up on so much more non-verbal conversations, so much more of what’s really happening in somebody’s mind.

Jonathan Fields (00:48:38) – Do they really mean what they’re saying or not? How did they receive what I just said? Even if they said that sounds good, right? But all of a sudden there’s something that happens in their face or they start breathing in a certain way or they lean back in their chair and look off like, you know, in a way they’re actually maybe telling you that actually they’re saying it’s good. But everything else at the communicating to you is I’m literally just lip serving this and I’m completely disengaged and I don’t agree with you at all. So pay deep attention to what’s being communicated non-verbally to you. It can change everything. One of the cues that I tend to look at often in conversations, especially where there’s conflict involved, the potential for conflict is breathing, which sounds a little bit strange because the truth is somebody very calm and centered and grounded and present their breath is usually long and slow, and you can see that in their body through the movement of their chest and move their shoulders through the strain in their neck.

Jonathan Fields (00:49:34) – When somebody is getting either agitated or they’re anxious or they’re excited, the breathing rate picks up. It’s short, it’s shallow in the breath. And again, you can see that in your body if you’re paying attention, that will tell you what’s really happening in the conversation, no matter what’s being actually spoken out of the mouth. That brings us to rule number five, which is pretty obvious at this point. But I need to say it here. To the extent that you have the ability to do it, respond, don’t react. Highly emotional. Instant replies often deepen rather than resolve conflict. If it works in the context, take a beat or even a few minutes or longer to let emotions down, regulate a bit, and your ability to be more thoughtful. Take the lead. Right? Long term power play. Mindfulness meditation is something that I think is incredibly powerful at cultivating this skill. Now, this is not an intervention. Like you don’t drop into meditation in the middle of a conversation where there’s conflict that might be a little bit awkward, but as a background skill, your ability to actually respond rather than react, to take a beat, to zoom out, to see what’s really happening, to check the subtext, to look for the non-verbal communication, to formulate what is the most intelligent way to respond to this in a way that will bring integrity and honesty and openness and resolution and then actually respond.

Jonathan Fields (00:51:00) – That ability fosters a much better, easier positive conversation. And that long term power of mindfulness meditation. Over time, it starts to build the muscle to allow you to do this on a much more automated basis. And I’ve seen that in myself. I have about a dozen years of a daily mindfulness practice now, which I did not come to willfully, by the way, but that’s for another day. That practice has allowed me in so many situations where the tension was high. There was conflict in the conversation to just take a beat, zoom the lens out and say, okay, I feel the emotion in myself. I feel my heart rate rising. I feel the anger or the upset coming to me. But if I respond from that, it’s probably not going to actually move the conversation forward in a way that leads to genuine resolution that I feel good about and they feel good about. So let me take a beat, breathe a few breaths, think about what is the constructive thing to respond with and then say it.

Jonathan Fields (00:52:00) – And I have found that to be an incredibly powerful tool, that mindfulness meditation over time, not in the moment, over time starts to give you that capability, sort of a little bit of a superpower to zoom out, get meta and then respond really, really, really powerful. That brings us to number six of our seven rules of engagement, and that is to ask the magic question. And this comes from Zoe Chance, who’s an old friend who’s studied and teaches persuasion and all sorts of things like this in university level. And her magic question is really simple and something that is interesting because I’ve actually been asking this question in so many different ways, in so many different modes, especially when there’s a possibility for conflict without even realizing that this was sort of like Zoe’s magic questions that she studied and she thinks is incredibly powerful in conversations. And that question is, what would it take? A simple question not just to have somebody agree with you or be convinced of your point of view, but come to a common understanding and be open to an idea or take a particular action.

Jonathan Fields (00:53:12) – So an example of this, let’s say in a relationship where trust is lost or it’s being pretty frayed, right? Things are tense. And in that conversation, rather than just saying it can’t be this way or it can’t be that way, or like, you’re not right, or like, I’m not going to do it, or you’re asking for something, right? And somebody’s saying to you, Nope, not going to happen. Or you’re trying to create something and people are like, No, there’s just no way. Like we’re not going to go there rather than saying, But this is my point of view, I’m right. If you actually said in the relationship where trust is frayed but you’re in it, what would it take for you to trust me again? What would it take to get to this particular outcome that we’re looking for? The answer might include all sorts of things that you’re not immediately open to, and that’s okay or even capable of. And that’s okay too. But at least what you’ve now done by asking that question is that you’ve opened a door.

Jonathan Fields (00:54:07) – You have a starting point for a conversation that is framed around the assumption that a resolution actually is possible rather than two in insides, and the increasing assumption that this is never going to work. There’s no fix for it, right? We’re planting a seed that says a resolution is possible. And that question, what would it take? Assumes that a resolution is possible and then allows you to start thinking, what would it take for that resolution to happen? And that brings us to our final rule number seven of the rules of engagement around navigating conflict. And that is this Never assume motive. So put yourself in the other shoes and. Bringing whatever level of understanding or empathy or compassion that you have access to into the conversation. Explore what experience is, what circumstances, what other concerns or history, individual, societal, cultural, familial might have led the other person or people or group to hold the conflicting points of view? Acknowledge the validity of their experience of pain and concerns. That doesn’t mean you validate them or their pains or concerns or experiences.

Jonathan Fields (00:55:28) – Nobody does that. No person validates another person. But if you acknowledge the validity in their lived experience of whatever it is that led them to that place and see if you can come from a place that is informed more by compassion for that than by rage. The opportunity to potentially resolve something is incredibly powerful. Yeah, there’s kind of an example of this that actually wrote about in a book a number of years back. This happened The King and I was, you know, like this play that was on Broadway and the show is going on. And there was an incident that happened to led to a lot of conflict. There was a kid in the audience and the kid was having trouble. The kid was screaming. It was like disturbing things. And the audience became enraged and they’re yelling and the yelling at the kid, the yelling at the mother, Take your kid out of here. Right. And it led to the the the parent and the kid exiting and not seeing the rest of the show right the next day.

Jonathan Fields (00:56:33) – Kelvin Moon Lo was one of the leads in the play, took to Facebook to write about this. He didn’t take to Facebook to attack, you know, the parent or the kid for disrupting this, you know, Broadway show and a theater and causing all the audience goers who had paid so much money to be there, you know, like and like, how can somebody take a kid who’s going to cause a ruckus like that to. He didn’t do that. Here’s what he wrote Instead. I wanted to scream and stop the show and say, Everyone, relax. She is trying. Can you not see that she is trying? I will gladly do the entire performance over again. Refund any ticket because for her to bring her child to the theater is brave. You don’t know what her life is like. That was such a powerful, powerful example of responding to a moment of potential conflict with compassion and empathy rather than escalating and coming to it with no understanding, with your own rage and your own assumptions and your own self interest.

Jonathan Fields (00:57:40) – So those are the four types of engagement or modes of engagement. We start out with that as a bit of a macro lens for handling navigation, and then once we understand how to navigate those modes of engagement in a most constructive way and bring them to a place where there’s the greatest likelihood of openness and honesty and dignity and empathy and engagement, right? Then we step into the seven rules and say, Now when we’re engaging in the conversation, how can we actually tap these seven rules of engagement to navigate a conversation that will likely involve some level of conflict or disagreement with so much more ease and openness and understanding and really genuinely, even if you walk away from this and you still do not agree, at least through this approach, you’ll be able to walk away and both sides will still feel like we don’t agree and maybe we’ll never agree. But you know what? I still see other person as a human being. I still will treat them with dignity and I feel like I’ve been treated with dignity and empathy and understanding.

Jonathan Fields (00:58:43) – And even though we don’t agree, we can still move on as human beings and experience the world together and treat each other with integrity and dignity. And that is the kind of world that I think we all want to live in because we will never agree with everyone. And sometimes those people we disagree with, they’re close to us. We work with them, they’re in our family, they’re in our friends. And we want to find a way to know that we can disagree and yet still coexist and sometimes even really engage and proceed forward in a way that feels good and healthy and connected. So I hope you found this useful and interesting. As always, I enjoy going deep into topics on these solo episodes. If you like this, if you want more, let us know. We’re happy to explore different topics and if there’s a topic you want me to dive into, let us know that too. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life project in your favorite listening app.

Jonathan Fields (00:59:40) – And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it maybe on social or by text or by. Even just with one person, just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action. That’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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