Step 1: Take Whatever is “The Most Important Thing in the World” to You and Lay It Aside – (for a moment).
Our normal instinct is to keep on fighting because we must protect “The Most Important Thing” from the enemy. “The Most Important Thing” justifies all of our actions whether it be our children, our religion, our way of life, our stuff, our dignity, our freedom, our reputation, or whatever else. But in reality conflict itself jeopardizes “The Most Important Thing” more than anything else.
Step 2: Go Find Your Enemy
Of course we would be willing to talk if the enemy would come and apologize to us first. If they would come to us (on our terms) then we would be reasonable and even gracious. But many conflicts go on senselessly precisely because both sides are waiting for the other to admit that they are wrong. Now the importance of Step 1 becomes apparent, if you are laying aside “The Most Important Thing” even for a short while, you don’t have time to wait around for the other side to make the first move. You don’t have time to save face, or salvage your pride. “The Most Important Thing” is at stake!
Step 3: Listen to Your Enemy
Listening requires time and patience. Usually in the midst of conflict we have little of either, and spend the precious minutes that the enemy is talking, thinking of our own defense and preparing a rebuttal to their accusations. But in this step it is crucial to carefully understand everything that your enemy is saying and if you don’t, stop and ask questions until you do. Don’t put words in their mouth, or assume hidden meanings, but keep asking until you fully understand what they actually want to say.
Step 4: Agree With Your Enemy
Once you understand their position, the crucial step is to find something that they have said that is true, and agree with them. Nothing more. No “Buts” allowed. Find even one small point where they are right, you messed up, maybe inadvertently, unavoidably, but you messed up and agree with them.
Step 5: Stop Fighting
Stop. Resist the urge to add the last word. To make it their fault. To remind them of what they have done wrong. Stop.
Step 6: Start Working on a Solution
Then start working with your new partner on finding a solution to the thorny problem that you share. Once the conflict has ceased, then there is of course room for difficult discussions and give and take. But before any of this can happen you have to make peace.
Now you know how to do it. Go and make it happen.
(by the way, this is not just for governments … it works in companies and families as well.)
Jonathan Wilson is Senior Pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship and leads OpSAFE International, a Tokyo-based non-profit dedicated to helping children recover from trauma after natural and man-made disasters. He is the author of “How Christian Volunteers Can Respond to Disasters: Lessons from the 2011 Japan Tsunami” and “Ricky the Bear and the Rainbow Egg” as well as books in Japanese on marriage, disaster, and the emotional needs of children in crisis.