I am paraphrasing David Brooks’ characterization of Obama’s goal in his Cairo speech because it has wider application to our daily lives – attempting to get past rancor and towards bringing out the better side in others.
By crafting a characterization of the situation that seems almost balanced to all sides you may have a path for dialogue. You may have stopped them from acting out the same fractious script.
In your story, your characterization of what happened that lead to the friction:
1. Provide specific details of what happened without using emotion-laden words that lead listeners to believe you are taking sides.
2. Then and only then suggest a brighter future for all sides: what each person or group should get or be able to do and what they should give up – and why. As Guy Harris writes, focus on the future actions you want.
3. Before individuals can continue to argue their story (their first instinct) rather than responding to your approach, ask them, “What about this approach – or other better way would you suggest – that you think would satisfy the others here?”
If someone continues to argue for their side, do the “broken record” response to bring them back to finding a middle ground: Repeat what you just said, only more briefly (the tendency is to be more wordy at this point): “Specifically, what would make this situation better for all of you?”
If they do start discussing what would make it better but then get stuck in arguing or accusing make this suggestion: I know there are better things you all would like to be doing right now so remember, you don’t have to forgive to forge ahead.
Just let go of the past for now. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, give up all hope for a better past.
Sometimes you can’t help others move on past a conflict. You must let go. Often it is because one or more of the individuals involved holds onto their story of being wronged as a central narrative to their life. Sadly, it is what gives their life meaning. Or one or more of the individuals is what Tammy Lenski dubs a conflict junkie.
In closing let’s return to where I began this post. Consider that your highest role in times of conflict is as Obama said in Cairo, “to speak the truth as best I can.” Using Obama’s approach can raise the bar of expected behavior for all involved:
“So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation… I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight….
But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.”