September 22, 2015

Relationship Ladder

Relationship Ladder

Resolving to Resolve All Conflict

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Nobody seems to know who came up with the above maxim (its first appearance in writing was in 1962, recorded during a hearing in the US Senate). Yet it’s a great statement, and it holds much wealth for resolving conflict … because the more you care about both sides of an argument being heard, the more likely you are to find a solution to whatever dilemma you’re trying to resolve.


By way of review, here are the five steps of the Relationship Ladder:


Step 1: Focus on the other person

When you want to resolve conflict, focus totally on the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Try to understand the picture that the other person is seeing in his/her head, or find words for what s/he is feeling.  Then, mentally try to sum up the person’s position in just a few words.


Step 2: Seek confirmation on what you understand

Once you think of a few words that sum up the other person’s thoughts or feelings, seek confirmation. In other words, ask if your quick summation is correct, and let people either verify that yes, you understand (“yes, that’s it”) or say “no, not quite.”

If they say “no, not quite,” ask them to clarify what you missed.

Why this step is so important:

  1. To resolve the conflict, you must truly understand the other person’s perspective
  2. The other person won’t care about your position (let alone your solution) if s/he doesn’t think understand his/her position.

Be objective in this step, even if the other person is talking you down. This is especially true if you’re the team leader. What you hear might be personally offensive, but you’ll have a tough time moving forward if you don’t remain objective.

Getting defensive will only make things worse.

The main thing for step two is simply acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and/or feelings. “Acknowledgement” does not equal “agreement.”


Step 3: Look for trust

By acknowledging someone’s point of view objectively, you’re creating a safe environment. This is important, because others will begin trusting you more if they feel safe.

This means you don’t criticize, belittle, mock, condescend to, mimic, ridicule, tease, deride, laugh at disapprove, scoff at, or make light of a person’s perspective. Not if you want to build trust.

Helpful hint: What you’re looking for in Step 3 are signs of trust, such as relaxed shoulders or voice tone, slower breathing, or even a look of relief — that someone is finally listening.


Step 4.  Gently Discover the Truth

Once trust is established you can start talking about the truth of a matter. One highly recommended method for gently getting to the truth is to ask questions, such as:

What do you think really happened to cause this problem?

What do you think could have happened differently?


If you continue to create an emotionally safe environment, chances are the “truth” will emerge.

Keep in mind, Steps 1 – 4 are about the past and the present, not the future, so feel free to talk about things as they’ve happened up to this point.  Save “solutions” and/or “future actions” for Step 5.

By the way, in Step 4 you get the chance to explain the “truth” as you understand it – although it’s usually better to ask the other person to review facts about the situation first.

Recommendations: Remain objective and inquisitive throughout. Keep your voice tone free from blame or accusation.


Step 5. Establish Hope

If trust has remained and you’ve stayed objective about the matter, here’s where you can start talking about actions that can be taken to resolve an issue. Ask questions and seek input about what “next step” actions would be acceptable to move things forward.  Helpful hints:

  • Agree that the issue needs a solution
  • Explore a “next step” action (or set of actions)
  • Ask general “if/then” questions to confirm the next step, such as: “If I could move forward on doing ____, then would that be an action in the right direction?”
  • Set up a follow-up date to review and see what else needs to be addressed