Change How You Think About A Conflict Or Difficult Situation

Think of a situation where you are experiencing conflict (either internally or externally) – perhaps finding it difficult to deal with or manage someone in your workplace or team. What sort of thoughts and feelings come up? Many of you might have thoughts such as:

  • ‘What am I going to do with this (awkward/difficult/tricky) person?’…
  • ‘Why are they such a jerk?’…
  • ‘Why was I dealt this hand?’
  • ‘How am I ever going to find a way to manage them’
  • Feelings you might have range from frustration, irritation, feeling hopeless, trapped to downright anger, upset or even despair.

Well, according to author Marilee Adams ‘Question Thinking’ approach, either consciously or sub-consciously we constantly ask ourselves questions as part of our mind’s internal running commentary.

At a basic level, it might be mentally contemplating whether we want ham or cheese sandwiches today at the lunch counter. Buteverytime we meet any kind of problem, challenge or conflict, we also run a script of questions/comments, although in many cases, we are unaware of this.
Adams identifies two clear categories or mindsets that underpin our questions: ‘Judger’ and ‘Learner’.

‘Judger’ questions are fairly well known to most of us. For example, if someone isn’t performing at work or when we are finding their behaviour difficult to deal with, more than likely the type of questions running through our minds are:

  • “Why is this person not doing what they should be?”
  • “Why are they so irritating/unmotivated/awkward…etc.”
  • “Will they ever learn how to do the job right’
  • “Is it my fault that I haven’t been managing them properly”
  • “Will they ever improve…will I ever get them to change”

‘Judger’ questions stem from and reinforce a negative, blame-focused mindset and lead to what she describes as the ‘Judger Pit’. The alternative is the ‘Learner’ mindset and the questions associated with that might be:

  • ‘What does work well here…what are their strengths’
  • ‘What can I learn from this situation?’
  • ‘How could I think differently about this situation?’
  • ‘What’s important to them, what makes them ‘tick’?’
  • ‘What can I do on my side to make things work better?’
  • ‘How can I see this as a challenge that I can overcome?’
  • ‘What learning can I take from this situation?’
  • ‘What can I do to stay motivated and positive in respect of this situation?’

If you have been reading each of the two sets of questions in your mind, you may by now start to understand what makes a tool like this so effective. It’s not so much the actual questions themselves, rather it’s the mindset that it creates as you ask these to yourself.
Just take a minute to read through each list again and see how you feel at the end of each. Have you noticed that with the first list,you can find yourself sinking into a negative, somewhat hopeless and at best resigned state of mind? And with the second list, you are feeling more upbeat, looking outward, hopeful frame of thinking?
This is where the real power of a tool like this lies – it shifts your mindset and starts to plant the seeds of possiblity, options and ways forward rather than reinforcing what’s not working. You also feel more empowered and energised so you will be more effective in how you approach the challenge and will therefore reap better result.

Using the tool: The best way I find to use this tool is to:

  • Think about a situation where you are finding someone else’s behaviour or work a bit of a challenge to deal with
  • Become aware of the type of thinking/questions that you are asking yourself – in particular, any ‘Judger’ questions that come to mind
  • Now consciously select some of the ‘Learner’ questions -recite them mentally to yourself, even write them down
  • Then go away and forget about it, letting your sub-conscious mind work on this positive direction. If the situation does come to mind, try and keep it focused on simply asking the ‘Learner’ rather than the ‘Judger’ questions.

You will be surprised at how your energy towards this person slowly shifts from negative to more neutral …. and if you persist, that somehow solutions start to appear.