Using neuroscience to resolve conflicts (Part 2)

By: Ariana Friedlander Thursday March 21, 2019 0 comments Tags: Ariana Friedlander

(See Part 1)

By Ariana Friedlander

Rosabella Consulting

It was Friday afternoon and I was being yelled at on the phone by my nonprofit client's funding partner. They were flying to town on Monday for a meeting I was facilitating on Tuesday and they were not happy about the agenda we had prepared.friedlander-blog-photo.fixed

The intention of the meeting was to find a way forward to fulfill an existing $10 million contract the nonprofit had with the funding partner. Their relationship had disintegrated when the funding partner unexpectedly pulled the plug on a different multi-year, multi-million-dollar project the nonprofit had already invested heavily in based on their word alone. The fear was that if this meeting didn't work, it would go to litigation! And the nonprofit (my client) had made it abundantly clear to me that they did not trust their funding partner.

"Trust isn't a problem between us!" the funding partner admonished on the phone. 

"I can't fly my entire team there if we aren't going to accomplish what we expected," she went on to threaten me.

Needless to say, I was triggered and in my head I was thinking, "Yeah right, trust isn't an issue." Followed by, "You're just looking for any excuse not to come."

I was jumping to conclusions based on the unfavorable things I had heard about this funding partner from my client. 

The day before I talked to my mentor and the creator of Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser. She had coached me for this moment: "They want to feel connected with you, not controlled by you, Ariana."

Luckily, Judith's voice prevailed in my head. And rather than argue with the funding partner, I took steps to build TRUST. In the Conversational Intelligence framework, building trust follows a memorable acronym, Transparency, Relationship building, Understanding, Shared Success and Testing assumptions.

So I started with Transparency. I apologized profusely for not seeking their feedback about the agenda first. We were working with a short time frame to plan this meeting and trying to be expeditious. Clearly, that was wrong. 

After that, I moved into Relationship building. "Of course, we want you to accomplish what you expect with this trip and meeting." I showed I cared about her feelings and expectations.

Followed by Understanding. "Let me make sure I understand what you're expecting to accomplish." Then I relayed what I had heard they expected to accomplish back to them (Oh, did I mention I was on speaker phone with her entire team?).

Shared Success came when I explained, "Based on what I'm hearing, I believe that your expectations do align with the nonprofit's expectations."


I ended by showing them that I was going to Test my assumptions. "I can't speak for the nonprofit. Do I have your permission to go back to them, discuss what we talked about here and make edits to the agenda?" 

Over the course of my TRUST building efforts, I noticed a significant shift in the tone of voice of the funding partner. She stopped yelling and her edge had softened because I connected with her, causing a release of oxytocin in her brain. By the end of the conversation she was emphatically thanking me and seeking my advice for how to ensure the meeting Tuesday was successful.

My behavior disarmed her threat response in the moment and primed us for having an incredibly successful meeting (which exceeded both their expectations) just days later. If I had argued with her, I would have caused the release of more cortisol, like throwing gas on a fire. When we are in a conflict that appears to have no way forward it is usually because our primitive brain is operating in a threat response. 

By priming for TRUST, we engage our prefrontal cortex as well as that of our conversational partner. With the executive brain running the show, we are able to navigate conflict in a constructive, effective manner that becomes win-win-win. 

Of course, in situations where trust has eroded over time and threat responses are predominant ,it can help to have someone like me there. An objective party who's trained to co-regulate our neurochemistry in the moment can shift the pattern, rebuild trust and resolve conflict with relative swiftness. 

Regardless of whether or not bringing in help is an option, it is important to spend time preparing for how to prime for TRUST. You may start by reflecting on how you want your conversational partner to feel as a result of your discussion. Then work through each letter of the acronym TRUST to ideate how you will show up in the conversation to prime for trust. 

Unresolved conflict breads toxicity, whereas using neuroscience to resolve the issue enables you to be stronger by working together effectively! As another client recently shared after I mediated a conflict for her, "It's like there was this bacteria spreading between us instead of us becoming a tree together."

Ariana Friedlander

About the Author: Ariana Friedlander

Ariana Friedlander is the founder and principal of Rosabella Consulting, LLC, and has more than nine years of experience working with small businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to create strategies for successful organizational growth.