"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." – Albert Einstein
Often when we are in conflict with someone, or even just mild disagreement, it can feel as though we are in a tug-of-war (or worse). There is our way, our position (the right way), and theirs (the not-so-right-way). Push. Pull. Repeat.
In order to move forward, it can often feel as though there are only two options: win or lose; my way or the highway. Or we may feel as though we need to have 100% agreement or full consensus within a group in order to progress.
Consensus is a powerful decision making tool, and there are absolutely issues and situations where consensus is called for. However, as much as we may yearn for it, consensus isn’t always feasible or attainable in all situations. Instead, by focusing on alignment, you can find what pieces can be aligned around or agreed upon as a common goal or interest.
If you look for alignment instead of agreement, conflict or disagreement can actually become a creative act that allows you both to come to a more creative solution than either of you could come up with on your own.
Alignment can be defined as “bringing parts into proper relative position; to adjust, to bring into proper relationship or orientation.” While full consensus or agreement is not always possible, there is always something to align around, dependent on how willing both of you are willing to look for it: in order to align, you both must be open to some degree of influence from each other.
Successful alignment doesn’t mean both of you necessarily have to like each other or agree with each other. It is possible to be in alignment and still disagree with or dislike each other. For example, you can be in alignment with a co-worker about the need to accomplish a job together, while disliking each other, or disagreeing about the methods.
Instead of having an issue separate you and another, looking for alignment allows you to get the issue out in front and to act as a team to address the issue together. Instead of trying to win over the other person to your side of the issue, or staying locked in your own positions, alignment can allow both of you to turn your attention and creative energies to what you both are fundamentally interested in underneath your individual positions. You can pull together, lined up behind a common interest, instead pulling against each other.
Focusing on what you and another person share in any situation, instead of what you don’t, will lead to more quickly moving toward a creative solution that honors both of you and your ideas.
If you're stuck in a conflict, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the real issue?
- What do we each really want?
- Why is it important to resolve this issue?
- What do we both share as common interests, goals or beliefs? What is the agenda that is greater than both of us?
- How can we resolve this as a team? What concrete action steps can we take together?
In the comments below, I want to hear from you. Let me know:
1) How have you used alignment to find common ground during conflict?
2) What difference did it make?
I'd also love to hear your questions and observations!
Beth Cox says
Hanna, I just started reading your blog (in backwards order). I’m beginning to think that you have ESP and have been looking into my brain. I didn’t call it alignment, I called it compromise – on my part. But looking back, it really was alignment. She and I disagree on many things, but we were able to find common ground and quickly put to rest an argument from last week.
Hanna Cooper says
Beth, glad you are here! Come back again soon! (I’m not psychic (though I’ve been accused of that before), though, sorry!)
I’m curious about two things: 1) what difference it means to you if to reframe “compromise” to “alignment” (sounds like a big shift!) and 2) what was the impact on *you* when you found common ground in this situation?
Nice work! : )