(Influential Leadership) The Magic Conflict Question

The Magic Conflict Question

Talk To The Hand

CONFLICT – just the word triggers something in all of us. Most of us either want to avoid it or at least minimize it. Influential leaders learn how to skillfully handle conflict.


It’s About The Meaning

How we handle conflict in relationships is influenced heavily by how we view it or the meaning we assign it. As you read this, think about a situation you are involved with or are witnessing that involves conflict.


We could assign many meanings to conflict that impact how we respond to it:

  • “Uh oh.”
  • “This is bad.”
  • “We’ve got a problem.”
  • “Why do I have to deal with this?”
  • “I can’t stand working with them.”
  • “I’m going to fight.”
  • “I’m going to flee.”


The Magic Question

One of the most helpful perspectives on conflict comes from the Center For Right Relationship: “Conflict is a signal that something is trying to happen.” Think about the essence of this statement and be aware of how it may change how you are feeling about your situation.


What if you approached your conflict situation with the magic conflict question “What’s trying to happen here?”


First, what you may notice is that negative feelings like dread or anger, are replaced with a constructive dose of curiosity. You have reframed the situation in a way that causes you to examine what you and the other person want.


Second, you will be in a much more resourceful place to engage the other person. You become interested in understanding their perspective, thus you listen more effectively.


Third, the chance of getting a positive response from the other person is much greater because of the way you are communicating.


Finally, even if the other person has no interest in cooperating to resolve the conflict, you are in a much better place to determine how you want to respond.


Conflict Management Action Plan

Here’s a quick step-by-step process to take yourself through before you engage in a difficult conversation – ask yourself these questions:

  1. “What’s trying to happen here?”
  2. “What do I specifically want?”
  3. “What do I think they want?” (Note: This question is very helpful to reflect on, but make sure you always confirm this with the other person. No assuming or mind reading.)
  4. “What’s common about what we both want?”
  5. “What are some possible solutions that can work for us now that I have a better sense of what is trying to happen?”
  6. “How can I skillfully engage them in a constructive conversation around this issue?” (hint: starting by trying to understand their perspective first is always a good bet.).


Try this process the next time you experience conflict or tension in a relationship. Staring with a higher quality question like the magic conflict question will lead to higher quality interactions with others.  Leave a comment here and let us know what happens!


(Contributed by David C MillerLearn more about how to ask powerful questions and other influencing skills in his book: The Influential Actuary. )

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