Recently, I’ve done a lot of talks on conflict resolution the Sandler way, which I consider the cornerstone of personal and organizational success. I’ve received many requests from audience members asking me to summarize the talks in written form. With those requests in mind, here are nine points to consider when you find yourself facing drama and conflict — and you wish you weren’t.
- Forget about winning. Whenever you argue with someone, you risk hurting him or her if you win — and you risk being hurt if you lose. Accept that this is not about winning. Rather, it is about cooling down for an adult-to-adult conversation.
- Forget about fixing other people. You will never be able to change the people around you. They must choose to undertake meaningful change on their own — and who knows how long that will take? When you’re facing a potential conflict situation, make the decision to focus first on your own personal accountability. You and you alone are the cure for the disease of High Drama, a disease that many others will insist is incurable. Let them insist. Your job is to lead, even if it is their fault. You can do that by playing what I call the ACE card, which is laid out in the next three points.
- Be assertive. Play the “A” in the ACE card by choosing to be ASSERTIVE, not aggressive. Your Nurturing Parent voice can help here. Remember: Assertiveness can still show empathy, one of the core elements of Nurturing Parent messages.
- Change. Play the “C” in the ACE card by choosing to CHANGE your own approach and define your own future. You do not have to do this alone, but you do have to accept ultimate accountability for the future you create during any discussion.
- Empower. Play the “E” in the ACE card by choosing to EMPOWER, rather than enable. This applies to both yourself and those around you.
- Get out of persecutor mode. The rules can be enforced, but you do not have to be mean about them. Accept personal responsibility for your share of the situation; this is the quickest escape route from High Drama. And whether it feels like it or not, at some level you are responsible for some portion of what’s going on. Remember what David Sandler used to say: “If your foot hurts, you’re probably standing on your own toe.”
- Get out of rescuer mode. Set boundaries; listen. Do not fix. Some victims just need to be heard and understood.
- Get out of victim mode. Be vulnerable — and remember that being vulnerable is different from being submissive. It is okay to struggle. It is not okay to give up. Say what you’re struggling with, and then say what you plan to do next. Keep an open mind. Consider what the other person might want to see happen.
- Be genuinely curious. Curiosity is the only emotion that sparks the left and right side of the brain at the same time.
Here’s what conflict resolution the Sandler way doesn’t sound like. You’re in the movie theatre, the film has started, and the people in the row in front of you are talking loudly. You say:
“Hey! If you guys don’t quiet down, I’m calling the manager.” (Or any other argument-starter.)
Here’s what conflict resolution the Sandler way does sound like. Same movie theater, same movie, same noise from the row in front of you. You say:
“Hey guys, I apologize for interrupting. Please don’t feel like I am trying to ruin your good time. What could I say that might get you to see how much I’d love to enjoy the movie without offending you at the same time?”
Which of these two approaches is more likely to lead to a positive outcome? The second, of course. It’s assertive without being aggressive, vulnerable without being submissive, and fully accountable for the future outcome it envisions.
Conflict resolution the Sandler way works. You always hold the ACE — the only question is whether or not you will use it.