When our differences with others are resolved in day-to-day interactions, those events receive little notice. Colleagues heading to lunch may have different ideas, but little difficulty settling on a restaurant that satisfies each. However, differences over more crucial matters escalate to actual conflict.
A husband, fearing for the financial condition of the family, berates his wife for a purchase he thinks is beyond the budget. A wife, worried about a growing lack of connection with her husband, abruptly leaves the room and refuses to re-engage in a conversation over whether he should go on a weekend golf-outing with his friends. When in conflict, many find it easier to use hurtful words or wounding silence than to productively join with the other party in a peaceful search for a strategy that will meet everyone’s needs.
How do you navigate through conflict in a peaceful way that leads to positive resolutions? Marshall Rosenberg, in his book Nonviolent Communication, has developed a model for communicating needs and interests effectively without using hurtful words or silence. When we are able to express our needs and what we are experiencing, without judgment or criticism, so that we are heard and understood by the other person, we are on the way to peaceful conflict resolution. When we are able to respectfully hear and understand the needs of the other person, whether we agree or not, we move further along the road to resolving the conflict. Rosenberg defines needs as the intangible, universal human requirements that we all share. Safety, connection, sustenance, and autonomy are just a few.
Once our needs are identified, it then becomes possible to engage in problem-solving—determining how to address those needs in ways that are mutually beneficial. A book that came out of the Harvard Negotiation Project, called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, describes this negotiating method in detail. In problem-solving negotiation, the effort is to jointly develop a strategy to which everyone can freely agree because it meets everyone’s needs.
There is another component to peaceful conflict resolution that can be vitally important. Erica Fox, founder of the Global Negotiation Insight Initiative, speaks of “a deeper way of operating” at the intersection between negotiation theory and the great wisdom and faith traditions. Those who are most effective at resolving conflicts have, in addition to technical skill in communication and negotiation, the ability to operate from a deep inner peace. This is developed through meditation or other practices, and creates the ability to relax and to connect to an inner calm. A non-judgmental, present-centered awareness can be brought into the conflict, and it then becomes possible to more fully operate from a “higher self,” even in the midst of discord. Further, this present-centered awareness can break the “loop” of reaction and counter-reaction and open the way to creative solutions to meeting everyone’s needs. The presence of one with these qualities can create a certain peacefulness that is contagious.
One of the great professional rewards for collaborative attorneys who practice peaceful conflict resolution is seeing individuals whose marriages are ending, for whatever reason, move through disequilibrium and find their center again. Operating from this center provides for more creative and satisfactory marital settlement agreements, and paves the way for greater happiness and success in their new and separate journeys.