The One Question that Creates a Way Out of Every Conflict

There is one question that will create a way out every conflict. The problem is that most people don’t ask this question.“What’s mine to own?” The hackles on our neck just rise…  “wait a minute,” we think. “This conflict is about what the OTHER person did wrong and about what THEY need to own. If they would start taking responsibility for the breakdown or tension or hurt they caused then we can get somewhere.”

It takes two to tango, but when we are fuming about relational fallout we forget about ourselves.* Our conflict strategy and solution to the problem then turns outward, towards the other and we only exasperate the mess.

We all know this; the only person we can control is ourselves and the only person we can improve is ourselves, but when we are on limbic overload we almost always automatically put on self-evaluation blinders.

I’ve seen this play out in many areas of life, certainly within my parenting. My kids will be whining or tense and rude and mean to each other. As if there is some stress force that has taken over their little bodies. I think to myself “if only they could be more patient, and kind, and less troubled by every little thing, then our lives would be better. They are filling this moment with tension for no reason!”

I want to blame them for the environment they are creating. But when I sit and ask myself the essential question, “what’s mine to own?” I start to see how I’ve created tension, bringing impatience or stress into that moment or over the previous week into the home. They are learning that from me. I created the environment they are perpetuating.

It’s a cutting truth and a sharp mirror to look at ourselves within. But if we want progress in relationships that we care about, we have to become experts at asking “what’s mine to own.” Otherwise, plan to stay stuck.

Extra credit for leaders: If you are overseeing a team of people in any capacity, this is one of the most important questions to learn to ask in leadership. If anything is not working on your team, first ask “what’s mine to own as a leader?” Did I not give enough clarity? Have I not set a boundary on that behavior? Have I not been encouraging enough? Have I not modeled actions I want to see? Have I not clearly set the values of the culture I want built? Etc etc. As Henry Cloud says, “We are ridiculously in charge” as leaders – meaning anything under our care is our fault and responsibility. And the results we experience are directly because of either “what we create or what we allow.”

The way out and the way forward of any mess requires that we ask “what’s mine to own.”

*I do want to acknowledge the difficult truth: there are some abusive and manipulative relationships where there is a one-sided problem, especially for those who were taken advantage of as children.

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