Could These 5 Words End Conflict?

We know both empirically and intuitively that the prospect of a reward is a more persuasive motivator than the fear of punishment. 

Yet under pressure, our instincts often lead us to threats of the latter.

We see this is our politics, in business, in relationships and with our own children.

Recently, over a lunch comparing parenting notes, a good friend shared an approach that was proving to be successful with his own son. While it centered on the potential for a daily reward, the real gem was hidden in what he told him when bad behavior began to put the reward at risk.

“I’m on your side.”  

The simple power of these five words reminded the boy that his Dad wanted the same thing as he did. 

When we see behavior we don’t like, we focus on this single act of difference. It is easy for that to lead to a conflict that escalates with each subsequent action and reaction, tit for tat, he said/she said.

But when we pull back to see the bigger picture and remind ourselves that we share a common pursuit, that we are indeed on the same side, there is an opening for behavior to change.

I’ve tried it with my own children and the early returns are remarkable. Beyond a simple tool for resolving a single conflict, it’s actually building a better relationship filled with great big laughs and precious little conversations.

It’s easy to find the “I’m on your side” in most conflicts – even amongst the most ardent opponents. 

The CEO and union worker want the company to be successful.

The Democrat and Republican want to pass legislation that helps Americans.

The parent and child want to have fun and be happy.

I appreciate that there are bad actors but I believe that most people are inherently good. I also realize that the devil is in the details in how any conflict is ultimately resolved. Tensions can easily flare, compromise is messy, external pressures abound.

But if we can start by reminding each other that “I am on your side,” at least the first step to a solution will be in the same direction.

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