DISAGREEMENT IS NATURAL, because we’re human.

I’ve recently had to work on this, both for myself and for clients, and have some thoughts about building a graceful reconciliation.

It’s important to realize that you’ve entered a zone fraught with emotion, so treating this with logical arguments isn’t likely to end up with a great result.

I always try to begin a reconciliation with any points of agreement. That could be as simple as “we both agree that we’d like this to work.” It can be based on your shared values of respect and honesty, even if you feel those have been damaged through the conflict.

I’ve also found it valuable to assume that everyone is just doing the best they can with the resources they have at hand. That seems to hold true about 98% of the time.

With that, you can start building toward resolution of the problem and reconciliation of the relationship. Here are the steps:

  • Start with your points of agreement, and search for more. Expand what you have, but don’t make assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling.
  • Find out if you’re working with different data or understanding of the situation. When you find those cases, share openly but don’t establish “right” and “wrong” unless you both agree to defer that judgment to an independent authority.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of injury, confusion, and loss. Feelings aren’t to be feared; they just indicate something that you should be paying attention to.
  • Figure out whether you’re working toward the same goal or different goals. Often you’ve assumed that these are solid when in fact they’ve diverged – or were never matched in the beginning.
  • Create a shared plan for resolution, whether it’s in the next 5 minutes or the next 5 years.

With one recent example, I was also reminded that email and voicemail are terrible ways to resolve conflict. Very few of us are good at capturing emotional content in written form, and you don’t get immediate feedback for the other person’s reaction.

The best form of discussion is in person, face to face. Next is a video chat, then a phone call. It’s well worth the investment of time and money to resolve important problems and heal the relationship.