Brexit split the UK in half - just about - but it's just one example of rifts that can open up. Here's how to bring warring parties together.
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Have you ever observed two opposed sides attacking each other, arguing their points, maybe even pointing out how stupid or ill-informed the other side’s arguments are? If you have, you have probably also wondered if there ever can be a way for them to unite or see eye to eye again.
Well, they can of course, but it’s not necessarily easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Take the current situation following the EU Referendum for example, which has so successfully (but oh so sadly) divided the country in two firm opposite corners of the boxing arena. Feathers have been severely ruffled, people are experiencing all sort of emotions (about the other side); pain, anger, sadness, frustration and more.
This can happen at work too, in sports, in families – anywhere where there are people involved! In order to bring people together after such a divisive situation, some key things need to happen:
There must be a willingness to want to unite again. This may not be readily at hand, and so someone needs to take the lead to invite to discussions, to make those people who are reluctant see that it is possible to come together, to build bridges. Listen to people’s concerns. When people feel heard, they are more likely to be willing to listen themselves.
Find a shared vision or goal. Ask yourself: What do we have in common? What can we agree on? What do we want to achieve, that we can agree on? Encourage discussion around this, wherever possible involving people in finding and agreeing on what they have in common and have shared responsibility for.
Healing divisions is not always easy
Someone To Take Charge
Someone, often a leader (although this can of course also be a strong, informal leader, who has the ears and the trust of others) needs to show the way, to set a vision (involving others in this). In times of uncertainty people often just want to be led in a direction, focused on a path and told where they are heading.
Assume Positive Intent
Assume positive intent. Be prepared to think that people probably did the best they could. Think that people didn’t set out to annoy, insult or overlook. Remember that when strong emotions are involved, those emotions can hijack people’s behaviours and things may be said as result, which aren’t necessarily a true reflection of that person or those people.
Once you know that people are willing to come to the discussion table and that emotions have abated, start getting practical
a. What will you do? What steps will you take on the road to your shared vision and goal?
b. Who will do what?
c. How will you hold each other accountable?
d. How will success be measured? How will you know that you’ve been successful?
e. Move into action.
Build A Sense Of Pride
We all need to know that what we do makes a difference; it is part of our human nature. Along with being heard and wanting to add value we want to feel part of something and usually something bigger than us! So feeling connected and feeling proud of what we are doing is paramount to reconstruction.
Start to focus on the strengths, what is working well. What can you and others feel proud of. What have you done today to make you feel proud. It is the small things as well as the big things. Think about what you can celebrate and feel good about.
Most people want to be listened to
Be Emotionally Intelligent
Where there is conflict there are always emotions at play. When emotions are involved, it’s not enough to just focus on a set of actions to build bridges between opposite sides. People also need to feel that they are being heard, that someone understands their concerns.
As long as people don’t feel listened to, they will not set aside their differences. They may pretend as if they have, but what you get instead is passive aggressiveness brewing. So be emotionally intelligent and be aware of your own emotions as well as others’.
Manage these as part of the process. Be prepared to allow people to vent and “have their say”. Listen without judgment and calmly have your say too. Once the vent is over, people can come to some reasoning and that moves the conflict closer to resolution. Don’t ignore the emotions and how people feel.
...And You Will Need To Repeat All Of This!
There will be plenty of challenges on the way when rebuilding damaged relationships and eroded trust.
So when you think you’ve done it all – you’ve listened, you’ve assumed positive intent, you’ve set vision and goals, you’ve planned and acted, evaluated and celebrated – you or the other party may well get off track, angered again by something someone does – and then you both need to go over your commitments to collaboration again. Re-affirm why coming together is so important and re-focus and re-ignite your efforts.
It’s OK, that’s how progress is made – step by step by step.