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Core Insight Skills
5 Steps to help you face conflict with confidence
(and why it's worth it)

Ask

Once we’ve verified, the next step is to ask – to get curious to find out more. 

 

Conflict reactions are rooted in our decision to defend ourselves when we’re feeling threatened. Something important is at stake and because of that, our impulse is to protect. Our protective conflict behaviors tend to cut off conversation and create counter defenses that can easily turn into an escalating cycle of conflict. In order to interrupt this cycle and open new possibilities for engaging productively, getting curious is key.

 

Curiosity is a powerful tool in conflict when it is specifically directed towards discovering the threat and defense motivating a person’s conflict behavior. That’s because these types of questions direct our thinking, activate voice, and free us from assumptions. 

Let’s explore these more. 

 

Questions direct our thinking. 

This is important because threat, via the stress response, cuts off the ability to think clearly and critically. We are in reaction mode, not reasoning mode. Questions aimed toward “What’s the threat?” and “Why that defense?” focus our attention on where the feelings of threat are coming from and how our defensive responses are supposed to help. This compels us to consider the answers to these questions. Once we start to consider them, we jumpstart our critical thinking and dissipate our stress hormones.

An example of asking in action:

Recently, our family was getting ready to head out the door to visit my mom, but my husband was still on a phone call. Frustration was building as the minutes ticked by. Despite reminders up until the moment we were supposed to leave, he didn’t hang up. I angrily stormed into his office to let him know we were now going to be late. 

When he finally joined us, he acknowledged my anger and explained the urgent work call. Though initially unmoved, he asked a thoughtful question, "What are you worried will happen if we're late?" This shifted my focus from him to my concerns. 


After reflecting, I realized I was worried my mom would be disappointed and feel like we didn’t care enough about her to be on time, which was the opposite of the truth. Thinking and reflecting on this clarified for me what was really at stake - my mom’s feelings - and actually began to open options for me about how to address that. 

Questions activate voice. 

When we feel threatened, we feel it in a big way. When we are able to communicate what’s at stake to someone who is open to listening, the threat begins to subside. Questions that seek to understand the threat and defense set the foundation for communicating what matters and feeling both heard and understood. Research confirms that when we feel heard and understood, emotions that are the opposite of threat are activated - emotions linked to satisfaction, security and relief. This is where we want the interaction to go when we’re trying to move it from escalating and damaging to controlled and productive.

Picking up my story above, when my husband asked me about my concerns with being late, it opened the door to dialogue. I was able to say, “I’m worried about hurting my mom’s feelings, and I don’t want to be the one to hurt her.” 

Saying this out loud was relieving. It gave me the chance to reflect on it, and to share it in a way that could be considered by my husband as well. He listened and understood the worry. The act of communicating it led me to wonder if she would really feel that way and if there wasn’t something I could do - like call her - to let her know what had delayed us. I felt like I was regaining control, where before I had completely lost it.

Questions free us from assumptions. 

It is easy to jump to conclusions and think we understand where someone is coming from based on our own life experience. But often in conflict, our assumptions miss the mark. When we engage conflict with curiosity, it frees us from assumptions and allows us to learn and understand another person on their terms. What is liberating about this is that we don’t have to know the answer beforehand. We don’t have to diagnose. We can simply ask, positioning ourselves to discover information we can use to move forward that comes directly from the source. 

For my husband, asking the curious question gave him the opportunity to understand where I was actually coming from. 

It would have been easy for him to jump to conclusions and assume that I didn’t want to be late for typical reasons of not wanting to miss our reservation or because we’d hit more traffic. And he could have easily dismissed those as inconsequential and unrealistic. But asking gave him the real story and helped us move out of a difficult and emotional interaction towards a sensible solution. 

It’s important to ask ourselves questions, too.

Getting curious about ourselves is just as vital as getting curious about others and follows a similar process. We first need to notice that we’re feeling threatened – the physical effects of adrenaline, strong emotions, feeling like we need to defend in some way. Take those reactions as a clue to get curious, and rather than just reacting, start to wonder: What is making me feel threatened? What am I worried will happen? What is the impact that I’m imagining? These questions start to clarify what really matters. 

 

From this point, think about what you can do about it. Is your first impulse the right one, or are there other options to consider that might lead to a better outcome? Considering these questions helps us make decisions in conflict that we can feel good about, even when the interaction is difficult.

Dive into our next Core Skill

When we choose to communicate – rather than react defensively – it opens dialogue that allows us to learn from others in a way that helps us forge a path forward and share information that is important to us. 

About the Core Insight Skills

 

Conflict is part of life. It’s part of sharing space with others. And it grips us when our perceptions and experiences not only don’t match, but feel threatening in some way. 

While conflict is difficult and causes us to charge into battle or disappear and hide, when we face it with confidence, it can also help us expand. It can be a clue that there are important things to address, and that by addressing them, new perspectives and possibilities emerge that are essential for growth. 

Facing conflict with confidence is not easy. When we feel angry, disappointed, frustrated, or wronged, we’re vulnerable. We want to protect ourselves and what we care about. But in order to effectively do that - to protect and strengthen what matters to us in the most sustainable way possible, to harness the good that can come from conflict and turn what might otherwise be destructive into something constructive - it is important to cultivate skills for engaging rather than escalating conflict.

The Insight approach – the theory behind Insight Policing and Engaging Conflict through Curiosity – invites us to work through five steps to more effectively communicate through conflict to find new, more sustainable paths forward.  

 

These steps require us to: Notice, Verify, Ask, Communicate, and Listen.

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