32 Questions To Help You See Conflict From The Other Side’s Point Of View
Whether you like it or not, there are always two, maybe even more, sides to a story. It’s the same with conflict. What I may feel offended or disrespected by, may have no effect whatsoever on somebody else. This is as much down to our experience of the world, as our values, needs and culture.
It’s also about how we perceive the causes of conflict and why people behave as they do. Nothing better illustrates this than the series Top Boy, the story of a gang of drug dealers from a council estate in East London. The violence and wasted, young life is something that we see both in this series and also in newspapers, every day.
The characters in Top Boy illustrate the underlying causes behind the violence. Social exclusion, communities living in crisis without the support of balanced, functioning family members or local services. With children navigating through social problems such as parents with addictions, domestic abuse and intense poverty, it’s no wonder that the anger they feel about this drives them towards criminality. We all need to belong and feel safe and the series shows how these vulnerable young people satisfy that need by forming gangs with others from the same background. Using this as an incentive, it’s easy to recruit abandoned teenagers who haven’t yet learned that they could choose a different life. It’s this kind of insight that helps us develop empathy and to approach conflict with more understanding.
We usually see conflict in black and white. We say things like, “they did this because they are evil/stupid/idiots/ etc.” This allows us to keep up the illusion that we are right and have acted correctly which helps to maintain our self-esteem. We often don’t stop to ask what made the other person behave in this way because we tend to focus on our own suffering. Creating an emotional wall against the other person in the conflict means that we don’t have to examine our own role or acknowledge that the other person might also be right or in pain.
Getting Some Perspective
Seeing it from the other person’s perspective is not easy. I still struggle with this in my own conflicts. What helps to ease anger about what might have caused them, including my own role in it, is to gain some perspective.
There’s no blame involved in this way of rationalising, it’s just about understanding that humans are flawed and vulnerable and when emotions run high, our perceptions of conflict are rarely based on reality.
Asking yourself the right questions can help you understand the other person’s point of view. I also think it’s helpful to ask a friend who isn’t afraid to be honest , to work through the following thirty-two questions with you.
Questions To Ask Yourself
- How does the conflict make me feel?
- What do I think they meant to achieve by saying / doing what they did?
- How might they have felt when they said/ did this?
- What might they have been thinking?
- What was their intention?
Your answer at this stage, may be something along the lines of “I feel angry, they probably don’t have feelings and they obviously intended to hurt me.” This is normal! The next set of questions will help you drill down on your views and to test them further.
- How do I know this to be true?
- What proof do I have of their intentions?
- How can I be sure they were feeling this/ they have no feelings?
- Did they behave this way before the conflict?
- Am I sure that my conclusion is correct?
- What else could they be feelings?
- What else could have been their intention?
- If they intended to hurt me, why choose this way of doing it?
- Do their actions really correspond with my perception?
- How did my actions contribute?
- What might they be feeling about my actions / words?
- Could I have behaved differently and if so, would this have changed the conflict?
One good reason to put yourself in the position of the other party is to understand how you could persuade them to resolve the conflict and which solutions might work, by asking the following:
- Which of their interests are affected by this conflict?
- Who else is affected by this conflict?
- What might be influencing their view of my actions?
- Could their family situation, background or culture be influencing how they approach conflict?
- What are they trying to protect?
- Who are they trying to protect?
- What effect on me and them will this conflict have in a year’s time?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if the conflict continues?
- What is the best thing that could come out of this conflict?
- What are we both willing to lose?
- What would it be like to live without this conflict?
- How would it feel to live without this conflict?
- What could you both do with your time and energy if you weren’t in conflict?
- How would it feel for this conflict to be over, for other people affected by it?
- In what ways is your perception of this conflict similar to the other person’s?
- In what ways are they different?
I can guarantee that both you and the other side have an ego, you both have almost identical needs and you both have emotions (unless you’re dealing with a narcissist!). The best antidote to conflict is empathy, which breaks down those emotional walls and connects you to the other person. You can only do that once you accept your own role and you examine your own behaviour in an an authentic way that commits to self-accountability.
Looking at conflict from the other person’s perspective is also useful in negotiation. It helps you to understand what they might argue, what might be persuasive to them and which interests you can tap into.
I’d love to read any more questions you think would be useful or any other comments about perspective. Feel free to leave a comment, like and share!