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Resolve Conflict Quickly with The Four Agreements

cover of 'The Four Agreements' by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements
by Don Miguel Ruiz

I dread conflict. In fact, when I know a confrontation is imminent, it's all I can think about. I mull it over when I could be labeling file folders, I ponder it while my inbox burgeons, while my 3x5 cards gather dust. Conflict is my productivity disaster.

Fortunately, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz gave me a few significant tools for moving past conflict in any arena. The book is about four habits you can adopt that improve your life in general, but I find it especially helpful when I'm anxious about a tough meeting, phone call, email exchange, or personal conversation. Before I head into the lion's den, I review the agreements to put myself in the right frame of mind:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

Words have immeasurable power, so use them with care. Say only what you mean, and remember your opinion isn't fact. Silence is better than saying something you'll regret.

2. Don't take anything personally.

Here I'll quote the book, "Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves." That guy honking at you just spilled scalding coffee all over his lap, the boss screaming at you is going through a divorce. Their stuff has nothing to do with your stuff, and assuming you're the root cause of someone's behavior is not only self-centered, it's also a big waste of energy.

3. Don't make assumptions.

You can spend hours generating theories about why someone did something, or you can just ask. When someone lashes or does something unexpected, save time by seeking clarification.

4. Do your best.

Do the best you can with the conflict in front of you, and you won't need to waste brain power on self-judgements or regrets.

When I can keep these guidelines in mind, I'm almost always able to diffuse a situation. Other benefits:

  • Resolution comes more quickly because you ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions.
  • You reduce time lost to stress because you don't feel personally responsible for the other person's anxiety or anger.
  • Initial conflict often turns into a productive conversation and leads to a deeper relationship, because you come from a more compassionate place.
  • You ideally come away without regrets, having resolved the situation instead of escalating it.

That said, I highly recommend that you read the whole book. It's short and packed with information that will make you not only more efficient, but also generally superior in every way.

n9yty's picture

Sorry, #2 sucks... :)

Actually, it's not quite true... Sometimes people are mad because of exactly what you did, and it's not their fault. To have this attitude would allow that insensitive offender to constantly get away with not planning, not commnicating, and putting subordinates on a shelf or hung out to dry and always smugly smiling inside when they get upset, thinking it's all their fault and not because of him. Sometimes it IS you.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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