The blame game

A Buddhist nun once said to me, “when you point the finger of blame at someone, remember that there are a few fingers pointing back at yourself”.  At the time, I was indignant!  I wasn’t at fault in the situation I was telling her about, the other person was entirely to blame.  She asked me whether there was anything that I could have done, or not done, that might have avoided the situation, or at least made it less of a problem now.  She was right, there werethings that I could have done. I could have been more assertive in raising the problem earlier and I could have not overreacted to later behaviour.

In conflict, we are very quick to blame the other person, and also to deny that we have done anything wrong.  But the language of blame is not very productive in resolving conflict.  In most conflict situations there is not a black and white answer to who is right and who is wrong, and no amount of discussion is going to resolve that kind of argument.

However, if we start talking about contributions then we often start to get somewhere.  A question I often ask parties in conflict is how each of them might have contributed to this situation arising.  Usually, both parties are quick to come up with examples of how the other person contributed to the situation.

What is most powerful in resolving conflict, however, is each party being willing to admit that they themselves might have contributed to the situation in some way.  This doesn’t mean that they are admitting that they are to blame for the situation, rather that they have done something, or not done something, that has contributed to the situation arising or not getting resolved earlier.

Typical ways that people contribute to conflict situations are: avoiding the problem so that it escalates, not being assertive and raising their concerns early, not being willing or available to communicate with the other person in order to try to sort it out, and making assumptions about the other person’s intentions.

Like tango, it takes two to conflict!  Both parties need to contribute to the conflict for it to continue to exist. When both people recognise this, and are willing to talk about their own contributions to the conflict situation, a shift happens towards resolution.  Both people realise that, just as they both contributed to the situation arising, they can also both contribute to resolving it!

So next time you find yourself in conflict, ask yourself a few simple questions:  Is there anything that I could have done differently that might have avoided this situation arising?  Is there anything that I have done, or not done, that has made this situation get worse?

When both people in conflict seriously consider those questions, they are one significant step closer to resolving it, but more importantly, they are also likely to identify some ways to avoid such a conflict arising in the future!