conflict resolution 101

Conflict resolution 101

Conflict is an inevitable consequence of being alive. The question is not whether you will experience conflict in your life but how you will experience in your life. It might be domestic squabbles over where the toothpaste tube should be squeezed, it could be workplace dramas over who owns the yoghurt in the fridge, or it might be a disagreement between friends over who was supposed to book the restaurant. Conflict is a given, your reaction to it determines the quality of your life. That is why new research looking at how you think about conflict is so empowering.

As a starting point the researchers were seeking to see how much “wise reasoning” people were able to employ when thinking about conflicts. “Wise reasoning” sounds like a goal we would all embrace but for this research it was defined as the ability to recognise the limits of your own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and foresee ways in which the scenario could unfold.

To assess wise reasoning capabilities the researchers first of all had subjects who were in a monogamous relationship imagine a scenario where their partner or a friend’s partner had been unfaithful. They were then asked questions about the scenario aimed at measuring their capacity for wise reasoning. It emerged that when they were thinking about a friend’s adulterous problem people scored higher on wise reasoning than when thinking about their own relationship.

In a second study a similar procedure was used except this time subjects were either explicitly asked to take a first-person perspective (“Put yourself in the situation”) or a third-person perspective (“Put yourself in your friend’s shoes”) when reasoning about the conflict. The results showed that people who thought about their relationship from a first-person perspective showed less wise reasoning than those who thought about their own relationship from a friend’s point of view.

A third experiment that compared data from people aged 20-40 to people aged 60-80 showed no differences in wise reasoning between the age groups.

In general, talking about yourself in the third person is to be deplored (as in your friend Jett who regularly announces “Jett is in da house” or “Jett’s not happy about that”). However, when it comes to conflict resolution it appears that the psychological distance conferred by thinking in the third person and using your name when reflecting on your relationship may create space for a little wisdom to creep in.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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