After much blue-sky gazing over myriad cups of coffee, I have come to the conclusion that, with regard to conflict, there are some truisms at the core of the human condition. Not often recognised, these truisms nevertheless deeply affect how we deal with one another.
- Problems do not exist independently of humans
People speak of ‘problems’ as if they are universal whereas each problem has an owner and is unique to that person. This is because each person has a unique set of beliefs around how the world operates. By way of a simple example, if two people each suffer a leg broken in exactly the same manner their experiences will be quite different.
If there were no humans there would be no problems!
2. We never understand another person’s problems
Directly because of (1), we never fully understand the problems of others – no matter how hard we try. Obviously, it is well worth trying but do not delude yourself that you really understand.
And yet, we keep on saying, ‘I understand exactly where you are coming from’
3. ‘Solutions’ are the source of much conflict
This one is totally counter-intuitive and requires a longer explanation.
The assumption here is that ‘solutions’ have to be good for you – and the more the better!
Yet, unless there is agreement on what problem the ‘solution’ is trying to solve, and agreement on the preferred situation, different, competing, ‘solutions’ will lead to argument divorced from resolving the actual problem.
All too frequently, a preferred ‘solution’ is put forward in the guise of a problem, for example, “The problem is that the buses are going too fast“. This implies a need to slow the buses down – clearly a solution, not a problem! I imagine that the actual problem could have been ‘People being injured by buses‘, in which case there are many other possible solutions (getting rid of the people springs to mind…)
Another, very common, difficulty with ‘solutions’ being offered in the guise of a problem is that, if a particular ‘solution’ is adopted without agreeing what it is trying to solve, in this case people being injured by buses, then the offered solution will end-up being treated as if it is ‘the problem’ and the discussion will shift on to different ways to slow down the buses – as if slowing down the buses was ‘the problem’. The unfortunate result of this is that the many other possible options for tackling ‘People being injured by buses‘ are cut out of consideration.
An easy way to flush-out a problem disguised as a solution, is to ask, ‘If what you suggest was implemented, what would change?’
When you understand where you are (the problem), and where you want to be, possible solutions will readily present themselves.