This exercise does not generate a solution in itself, but is a useful preparation stage for other tools: it helps free up thinking about internal conflict, or a conflict in a team or between individuals or groups, and increases understanding of the deeper structure of the conflict. In doing so, it fundamentally changes the attitude and approach of the participants and generates new choices for future action.
It works when:
- One person wants ‘x’ and another wants ‘y’
- Team A is in conflict with team B
- One party believes ‘x’ and the other believes ‘y’
- One part of ourselves wants or believes ‘x’ while another part wants or believes ‘y’
The exercise relies on the premise that for these conflicting positions to exist, the parties probably have conflicting higher-level interests too. No sustainable resolution is possible unless and until these interests are met.
The process uses the language of distinct and tangible parts as a way of opening up thinking about the situation. It goes through the perceptual positions that we describe more fully elsewhere. The positions are:
- First position: considering the situation while being ourselves in the normal way.
- Second position: stepping into the existence of another person as best we can, and examining the situation exclusively from that person’s perspective.
- Third position: becoming as objective and emotionally untangled from the situation as possible, considering the issues as if we are floating above them as a wise and independent judge.
This exercise can be conducted alone or with a coach. The big advantage of working with a coach for this and other exercises is that the coach is more likely to spot inconsistencies in our language and feelings than we are ourselves. We will provide notes for the coach in italics like this – these are useful guidelines even when we are doing the exercise alone.
The steps are as follows:
- Identify the conflicting parts.
For example: one person in a couple wants to stay at home and another wants to party, or one part of the organisation believes in formality while another part believes in individual expression, or the same person enjoys eating a lot but also wants to lose weight. Now imagine that these characteristics are separate but internal parts of yourself.
Coaching note: It can be helpful to imagine that the different parts are each placed on to a different hand.
- Describe the behaviours and attitudes
Look at the first part as if we are an external observer and describe its key characteristics, behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. Repeat this for the second part.
Coaching note: Check that the language being used is that of an independent observer (‘it’ and ‘that’ rather than ‘I’ or ‘we’), considering these issues from the outside.
- Take a different perspective.
To gain more information, step into the first part and imagine that we have completely become that part – and are considering the other part through its eyes, ears and beliefs. Describe what we think, see, hear and feel. Notice those elements or characteristics that may have been hidden previously and now rise to the surface – especially any that we really do not like.
Repeat this process for the second part.
Coaching note: This time, check that the language is all about personal feelings rather than neutral observations (‘I feel ..’ rather than ‘it is…’)
4. Identify the higher-level interests and positive intentions.
We now step back into the perspective of an external observer. From this position we examine the higher-level interests of each part: these are the assumptions and drivers that lie behind the presenting issues and behaviours. These higher-level interests need to be capable of explaining all attitudes and behaviour.
Then work out what the positive aspects of each part are for the other part. Even if these are not immediately obvious, keeping hold of the assumption that there must be some sort of positive intention will usually flush something out. This might take some time, but that’s OK – it’s worth doing it right.
This positive intention can be thought of as a learning, insight or gift that, if the other part learned it, would make a significant positive impact on it. Once again, take the time to ensure that the insight gained is capable of explaining all of the characteristics and attitudes of each part, especially the most adverse ones.
Coaching note: This is the crux of the matter: from the position of the independent observer again, we are asking what might explain all the observed behaviours. A subtle way of approaching this is to bring the hands together and notice what emerges as the parts integrate with each other. The answers don’t need to be provable truths, but they do need to have sufficient emotional clout to overcome any barriers.
The key to this part of the exercise is to accept the conclusions, even though it is obvious that they are unlikely to be true – in other words, if they fit all the facts, and are sufficiently powerful at the emotional level, they will work as a catalyst for change.
- Make the exchange.
Imagine that the first part offers the learning to the other part. Check that it feels (intuitively) ok for the second part to receive this particular gift. Repeat this for the other part and its gift.
We then make the exchange, checking that it feels aligned as we do this. This stage can be enhanced by physically bringing our hands together and noticing how well the parts integrate given the insights we have just gained.
If there is any resistance to the giving or receiving (even the smallest low-level feeling), this is a clear indication that there is something that has not been addressed yet. If this happens, we need to go back to step 4 – this time dealing specifically with the nature of the reluctance.
Coaching note: Once again, doing this physically by bringing the hands together can sidestep internal chatter and allow deeper feelings to emerge. Be particularly aware of any emotional resistance that appears: another way of tackling this is to “ask” the receiving part what it needs in order to accept the incoming learning.
- Review future options
As ourselves, we review our future options in the light of the exercise experience. This benefits from the use of the outcome thinking tools described elsewhere in order to confirm that the future direction is both achievable and motivational.
Coaching note: This is a final check to establish that the process has actually worked. The coachee (whether another person or yourself) needs to fully step into the future, together with the new insights and feelings gained through the process, to check that the parts are now fully integrated.