The Mindset Shift to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation

“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.” 
Oscar Wilde

Smart enemies? Why? Isn’t it better if they are dumber?

It depends on what you are looking for.

Every human being, without exception, is going to have to deal with conflict, enemies, hard situations in general, that’s just the way life is. I know it’s not pretty and it’s tough to hear but the sooner you accept this the better, as you’ll be able to deal with it in the best possible way.

Before I show you the mindset shift needed to deal with conflict and the difficult, often annoying people, let me tell you first about the most dangerous, unyielding, and difficult to deal with, hostage-takers.

The world has seen a rise in these situations. They happen every week and they are conflicts that need to be dealt with at the moment as there are lives at hand. So how do they do it?

Harvey Schlossberg is the godfather of effective hostage negotiation. He is an NYPD officer who happened to have a Ph. D. in psychology. He developed a framework to deal with hostage takers and reduce the high death rate of every crisis. Before the framework, the methodology used in a hostage crisis was a force, brute force. The police assumed they were not going to be able to negotiate with crazy people, so almost every hostage crisis ended with people dead. The framework was immediately put to the test and worked. It worked so well that the FBI took it to further investigate on it and it is now taught as a part of their curriculum. Hostage crisis dealing success incremented to 95% and it is still used today in every crisis, including terrorism.

So what is the framework? “Talk to me”.

‘Talk to me’.

Schlossberg’s method consisted of suppressing all weapon use and force. Even when force was being used against the police. He then talked to the hostage-takers until a solution was found.

The core trait the police negotiators needed was unexpected, empathy.

Yes, empathy. The ability to understand, logically and emotionally other people. Terrorists are people as well, as twisted as that sounds, but nevertheless, people.

By focusing on the emotions first and then listening to what they had to say, the negotiators could find a better way to deal with the situation.

Empathy and understanding reduced the death rate to almost zero. Seems nuts? Bear with me

There are two ways you can handle conflict.

The War Metaphor, I win you lose.

The first one is Daniel’s Dennett ‘War Metaphor’.

In the war metaphor, you are going try to win no matter what, there has to be a winner and a loser. This is the most common way of dealing with conflict, shouting and measuring to see who’s got ‘the upper hand’, Machiavellian strategy. This is also the way old school hostage negotiators went for, and it didn’t work, everyone died.

Why doesn’t this work?

Trying to win without taking the other part into account will always finish in chaos. You might win a hand (or a hostage) by using force but bear in mind that you will not always have the upper hand and that revenge is real and will happen when the opportunity arises.

Within this framework, you are fighting for a piece of meat for yourself and the other person, naturally, is going to do the same. You may win a battle, but you will surely lose, as the other person, the war. War leaves casualties, both sides, always.

Schlossberg’s way, empathy.

What do you really want? Think about it. Do you hate someone so much that your sole purpose is just to end him? Anger is a corrosive feeling, trust me, you don’t want to carry it with you.

Every conflict has a solution or at least the best possible solution. It is hard to see when all you can think about is winning against someone else. As long as your aim is to win in a competition, you will hardly be able to even see any solution that fits you or him.

Studies were done in the MRI shows what happens when people indulge in the ‘war metaphor’ and what they show is the part of the brain that uses logic and rationality, literally shuts down.

Essentially, you become an animal, a reptilian trying to get the bigger piece of meat, everything human about you is thrown out the window. So what do you really want?

As a thinking human being, you’d naturally want the best possible outcome, wouldn’t you?

But how do you get there?


The first step is changing how you see the conflict and the other person.

The obstacle is the way, there is no way, but trough.

When you think about the other person as your enemy, as your counterpart, you will inevitably fall into the war metaphor, so first, as hard as it sounds, you have to change the way you look at him or her.

Instead of seeing an enemy, you need to see the person as someone that will help you to get out of the problem. Think of him as a difficult ally in a sense, but an ally nevertheless.

This will put you in a state of mind in which you are no longer concentrating on winning, but on finding a solution to move on.

Calm yourself down and address emotion first

I was playing smash brother with my little nephew the other day and I won, all hell broke loose.

Apparently, he doesn’t like losing, at all, so he grabbed the controller and threw it to the TV while screaming and violently shaking, to be honest, it was hilarious.

And that’s the key, it was hilarious.

When a kid gets angry, do you get mad? No right? You know he’s just a kid and he cannot control himself and that’s why he’s screaming. Naturally, you don’t appeal for his rational side, at least first, you don’t tell him: “You lost because you haven’t practiced enough, you should go and practice”.

No, that doesn’t work. First you need to address his emotions, because that is how he works, so a much better way of dealing with him would have been to ask him if he wants to play a game where he is on your team, it worked by the way, and gradually get him to get better so he knows that getting angry is not the way, becoming better instead will increase his odds of winning.

We think we are rational adults that function with a reason but the reality is that sometimes we are little children. Deal with emotion first.

Active listening

‘Talk to me’.

Your greatest ally in conflict resolution is going to be asking questions.

The goal is to get everyone to think straight.

Once emotions are addressed ask questions. Use the Socratic method to actually understand what the other person has in their head so you can take him into a more rational stance where you are no longer trying to beat each other but deciphering a solution to move forward.

What will happen if this is done right is that creativity is going to emerge naturally out of your commitment to finding a resolution and you will no longer be looking to get the biggest piece of meat, but on cooking a bigger cake.

In conclusion

This method works in the worst possible situations in the world. It should work for you as well. Now, think about difficult situations you know you need to have and put them into the framework, see if it works.

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law — and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

a great complement to this read: The Pathway to psychological freedom

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