How Do You Get Unstuck in Contentious Situations?

On Sunday December 12, 2021, Max Verstappen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and as a result the 2021 F1 Championship.

If you are a Max Verstappen fan, it was a well-deserved win.

If you are a Lewis Hamilton fan, the win and his eight world title were unfairly wrenched from his grasp due to highly contentious decisions made right at the end of the race.

This is where the third player in this outcome enters the picture: race director Michael Masi. He made the decisions that created the conditions for Verstappen to overtake Hamilton in the last round of a race in which he had long been unable to close the gap with Hamilton.

What happened right after Masi’s decision between Verstappen/Red Bull, Hamilton/Mercedes, and the stewards is illustrative of what happens each and every day in conflicts within and across teams and organisations.

Persuading with Facts and Figures

When something happens that clashes heavily with our deeply held beliefs, we react not only defensively, we go on the attack with facts and figures, with or without a barrister in tow.

Our intention is to use these facts and figures and persuade others that our take on the situation is the right one and, therefore, that theirs is wrong. Of course, other parties involved use the exact same data and strategy on us. Consequently, what happens in those moments is not that the various sides move closer to each other, but they actually move further apart.

Deeply held beliefs are core to our identity, so when you try to persuade someone who holds a strong view to shift their position, you are effectively asking them to change sides. That is not going to happen. They will dig in deeper. You do the same, and that’s how the distance between you increases.

When you find yourself and others deeply dug into your respective positions, and you’re not in a position to overrule the other from a position of authority, using a different strategy could help to get you unstuck: switch the field.

Switch the Field

This strategy is based on the principle that we resist ideas that clash with our beliefs, but we adopt those that resonate. When those ideas come from people who understand us and there is trust between us, we move even faster in the desired direction.

Switching the field requires shifting the focus from you to the other. The intention is to truly understand what matters to the other and, importantly, to do so without judgment to build trust. By going deep, you might discover a dimension that matters to both of you and where you are already in agreement. On that point, you believe the same thing and hence there is zero distance between you. Now the challenge is to turn that point into a pivot and show that what matters to you in the original situation is no different from what matters to them in a similar but different field.

When this leads to a breakthrough, it accelerates mutual progress in the desired direction and strengthens your relationship.

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