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Turning Conflict Into Creativity – Consciously Choosing To Create Flow



by Hayden D. M. Hayden, author of “Conscious Choosing for Flow: Transforming Conflict Into Creativity

How do you deal with conflict? Is there a way to become a person of action who transforms conflict and has a positive impact on people’s lives and their business results?

In every conflict, big or small, behind every action, and every word spoken, there are critical needs screaming to be acknowledged and satisfied.

Everything we do must serve these critical needs in order to create a flow of positive interaction. Understanding how to “name the need,” by using our feelings as a guidance system to that unmet need, is the way to remove resistance and impediments to flow. This is the path towards better future outcomes.

Ultimately, its all about choice. It’s our choice whether or not we take responsibility for our actions, how we react, and what meanings we make up about people or situations that will hinder or promote our relationships. Staying curious, asking questions of ourselves and others, will help us get the results we want.  The choice is ours.

Wherever there are people, there is conflict. Organizational success depends on people working together to achieve common goals. Conflict gets in the way of teamwork and can derail an organization if not addressed.

Here are my top tips for transforming conflict and building connection with others:

1. Be Curious, use open-ended questions that start with the word “What,” and practice “Yes, and…”

Curiosity involves staying open to new ideas and asking questions that solicit ideas and answers that build on, not detract from, what you think you already know.  Questions that begin with, “What” aren’t looking for a particular answer like people, time, location or process. Finding the answer requires digging inside your memory and logic to tap into your wisdom, experience and insights. Then use, “Yes, and…,” instead of, “Yes, but…” to build upon these ideas.

Ask:     What exactly did I do that made you think I was controlling?

What do you think needs to be done?

Build: Yes, and I didn’t mean to shut you down.

Yes, and I think we also need to consider XYZ.

2. You get to say how your life goes. What are you saying?

Your perspectives will determine your feelings and define your actions. Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Transforming conflict into creativity starts by having the perspective that you really can do this! Choose the perspective that supports the life you want to have.

Negative perspective:  If I think of someone as a jerk, I will have negative feelings and treat him as if he’s a jerk. It’s unlikely we’ll accomplish anything together.

Neutral perspective: If my perspective is that he’s just doing what he’s doing, and there must be a reason for it, my feelings will be more neutral and I will be open to having a dialogue with him that will help me understand the way he is acting. From there, we can discuss ways of operating differently with each other.

3. Where Focus Goes, Energy Flows.

The power of choice is the greatest gift we have as humans and yet we often don’t choose consciously.  When we are triggered, we react automatically and don’t consider the repercussions. Our unconscious question, “What is the worst and most personal way I could take what you just said or did?” elicits Reptilian Reactions and puts our focus on conflict and disconnecting from others.

Nobody can make you feel any particular way.  You have complete control over your feelings. You may interpret what others do negatively and it invokes negative feelings. Or, you may interpret what others do positively and it generates positive feelings. Either way, it is your interpretation of others or situations that make you feel a certain way. So, ask yourself a different question, “What needs of mine, and theirs, are not being satisfied?” and put the focus on meeting those needs and building connection.

4. Rely on Facts, don’t get stuck on your Meanings.

We create problems for others and ourselves when we relate to our subjective meanings as objective facts.  Facts and meanings are not the same! Facts are objective and verifiable by others and are not subject to our own subjective interpretation or evaluation. Facts come to us constantly, in real time, and are limited only by what our senses can take in and what our brain can hold in its memory. Because the human brain needs to make sense of all of the data it is receiving, it goes about categorizing, filtering, and storing it for future use, thus creating meanings out of the facts. The problem then arises when your meaning and the meanings others have created are not in alignment, and you find yourself at odds with others because you do not share the same external ‘truth.’

To connect, focus on the facts that led to the conclusion. Facts keep the conversation safe and respectful, so others are willing to risk and share their best insights and ideas with you.

Meaning – “You ignored me, so why should I help you now?”

Fact – “When I stopped by your office, you did not look up from your computer. Do you have time to talk later?”

5. Use Feelings as GPS, not GAS to explode on others.

Feelings, in addition to being the energy that fuels our ability to take decisive action, also serve as directional guides to our needs. In fact, they are the only internal guidance system we have. We typically haven’t learned how to use our feelings as a type of GPS that guides us to our needs.  Consequently, our feelings then become the unconscious fuel that drives our outbursts, much to our regret, like gas ignites in our car’s engine. We miss out on what they are telling us – whether (or not) our needs have been acknowledged or satisfied.

Pay attention to the internal signal that something isn’t right! Identify the feelings and let them guide you to the need that is not being met. Then focus on meeting that need.

Gas: “When I heard that the report was going to be late again, I was so infuriated that I threatened to fire Jim, stormed out of the room, and slammed the door.”

GPS: “When I heard that the report was going to be late again, I felt anxious and angry. I have a need for consistency and competence that isn’t being met. I wonder what we can do to remove the challenges that are preventing timely completion of the report?”

6. Name the Need others are trying to meet.

Blaming, complaining and judging are just three ways people tell you that their needs are not being met. Unfortunately, it’s a very ineffective strategy for trying to meet those very needs. Needs are different than strategies. Needs are universal to human beings and they are “why” we do things.  Strategies are “how” we try to meet our needs, which often creates conflict since we have infinite strategies to meet our own needs. We may not be able to agree on the strategies we employ but we can relate on our common needs.

Safety and respect are two critical needs we all have.  Violate either one and people will shift to self-protecting to provide safety or respect for themselves, thereby losing the very input we need to get the best results possible. To turn conflict into creativity, name the need, which is the often the elephant in the room. Once you name the need, the conflict loses its charge and then you can talk about creative ways to meet that need.

Judgment, blame, complaint: “You don’t help with the house work. I have to do everything around here.”

Need: “It sounds to me that you want some help and support with the housework and that you would like appreciation and acknowledgement for all that you do.  Is that right? What can I do to help?”

7. Make Requests, not Demands.

Requests have 3 possible answers, yes, no and a counter. When we make demands of others, there is only one possible answer (for us) – yes … or else. One of the greatest human needs is autonomy, to have a say in our life, so demands rub us the wrong way and we think we only have two choices – to submit or rebel!

Take, “no” as an opportunity to uncover more information and explore what’s going on with the other person. What shows up initially as resistance can ultimately lead to alternative actions that are more effective, enrolling and work for everyone involved. Then take this further, and turn the request into an agreement. When people engage consciously through dialogue and from a place of choice, conflict is diffused and you have a greater probability of achieving the desired end results.

Demand – You can try to force others to do what you want.

Request – Identify, “what’s in it for them,” what needs of theirs will be met through fulfilling the request, so that they are motivated to do what you both want.

Consciously Choose to follow these tips and soon you won’t need to transform conflict because you’ll be in Flow with those you interact with.


Hayden Hayden

Hayden D.M. Hayden, “Chief Visionary” and co-founder of Conscious Choosing, LLC, is a certified professional behavior, values and attribute analyst and holds a master of divinity in human development and counseling. Hayden has more than forty years of experience owning, operating, and developing companies and has consulted with hundreds of businesses throughout his career. He is author of “Conscious Choosing for Flow: Transforming Conflict Into Creativity“.