By Sara Reistad-Long, Oprah.com
For the sake of argument, imagine a world without conflict. That’s the full-time job for members of a relatively new field called peace psychology who focus on problems like the genocide in Darfur, hatred in the Middle East, gang warfare in our cities, and rape everywhere. Wondering what lessons they’ve learned in the trenches that we could use in our daily lives, “O” asked five top peace psychologists for their best advice on waging harmony.
•”We often figure that other people see the world in the same way we do and overestimate the degree to which they understand our approach and actions. Rather than making assumptions, ask for clarification; even ask about their intention to harm you (‘Did you realize when you did that, it affected me in this way?’ They might not be aware of it).
Be willing to take the first step in opening up such conversation. Also, when we think we’ll be rejected, we tend not to smile, we make less eye contact and stand farther away. The other person may perceive these gestures as a brush-off. Go out of your way to say hello. Or smile or make eye contact. We have to take a deep breath and try to recognize that we all feel anxiety. Go in and learn.”
Linda Tropp, Ph.D., director of the psychology of peace and violence concentration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Sometimes, a difference runs so deep that talking about it just won’t help. In this case, having a third person present may neutralize the tension and balance the bully’s power. It can be a friend of both parties.
Mediation is a possibility. When both parties need to maintain a working relationship, it’s useful to cooperate on a project that helps achieve a shared interest. Working toward a common goal will humanize the other person and, over time, reduce animosity.”
Michael Wessells, Ph.D., professor of clinical population and family health at Columbia University and the Christian Children’s Fund’s senior adviser on child protection
• “When stakes are high, you can keep tension down by taking small steps toward the center. Let the other person make his argument first. Or, let him win a few small points. It’s a way of acknowledging his feelings and encouraging him to reciprocate. This can lead to what we call the transformative moment — when people are able to meet each other in deeper ways that allow for vulnerability.”
Barbara Tint, Ph.D, director of international and intercultural conflict resolution for the conflict resolution graduate program at Portland State University, Oregon
• “Discord hijacks rational thought and makes people take extreme stands. Think about an argument over Chinese versus Italian food for dinner. There are other choices; you’re just too worked up to get to them.
That’s why it’s so critical to look beneath the positions to what somebody else’s real interests are. One person could say, ‘I just had Chinese’; the other doesn’t want the carbs from pasta. Now you can calm down enough to find the solution that meets both of your needs — steak, maybe.
When a relationship is suffering, it’s important to think, ‘What is this person’s story? Abuse? Betrayal? Fear of intimacy?’ Once you shift your focus away from yourself and toward the others involved, you’ve made room for compassion.”
Eileen Borris-Dunchunstang, Ed.D, director of training at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy and author of “Finding Forgiveness”
• “I find it helps to compliment a person right away (‘I really appreciate your passion for this…’). Next, to show that you’re listening, occasionally pause and rephrase the other person’s point (‘It sounds like this is what you’re saying’). That tones him down.
Once he’s cooled, make your point (‘Here’s my perspective; do you see where I’m at on this?’). Also, there’s generally a grain of truth to any criticism — nod to that, and you’ve both reduced its power and built some goodwill. People think of conflict resolution as just finding the right compromise; but from our work, we know you can make it a win-win situation.”
Linda Woolf, Ph.D, past president of the American Psychological Association’s peace psychology division
By Sara Reistad-Long from “O, The Oprah Magazine,” May 2008