The 10% Shift That Stops Conflict in Its Tracks


There is a hypothesis that everyone, regardless of their stance in any argument, is at least 10% right. You might question whether this is accurate, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just assume it is…at least it is 10% right.


Doing so is a brilliant foundation for handling difficult conversations, negotiating important deals, handling volatile situations, and building consensus among teams. Just about every key communication a leader must deliver can benefit from assuming that magical 10%.


What happens when you do assume everyone is at least 10% right? Actually, a lot of things happen. Here are a few really great ones:


1. You slow down enough to actively listen. When you hear someone say something that alarms you, and you begin forming your rebuttal before they have even finished their sentence – stop. Ask yourself, “What is the 10% of their point that I can accept as being right?” It demands you really hear what they are saying, so your response then can acknowledge them, and their point, before you suggest some adjustments. We all want, first and foremost, to be heard. Then we want to be right. Not the other way around.

2. You develop empathy (both cognitive and emotional empathy). By discerning the 10% of another person’s viewpoint that you can agree with, you have no choice but to put yourself in their place. Consider: How is what they want beneficial to them? What are they hoping to accomplish with this approach? When you are able to have empathy, then you also have insight into potential solutions as well.

3. You establish a common purpose. No leader leads for long if they cannot establish shared meaning, purpose, and vision. When you can grasp the crucial common ground between your views and someone else’s, then you have a foundation for growth.

4. You build trust and mutual respect. Coercion doesn’t generate commitment. Neither does defending, protesting, or badgering. They generate compliance, which is based on fear, defeat or both. Trust and respect, which build commitment, are generated by feeling safe and as if we belong. Someone doesn’t have to agree with you entirely in order to feel safe and connected in your presence. They only need to know where you stand, and also believe you respect and recognize where they stand as well. When you acknowledge the validity of their views, even if you don’t choose to embrace them, you begin building trust and respect.

5. You see creative and innovative solutions. We all have blind spots, biases, and assumptions. There is no avoiding it. When we are willing to shift our perspective just enough to embrace a perspective that is noticeably different than our own—even just 10% of it—we are also able to see new possibilities we could never have considered otherwise. We grow as a result. This is the foundational idea behind diversity and inclusion creating more sustainable organizational governance.


Of course, assuming someone is 10% right is not our natural go-to in the heat of an argument, is it? It takes practice. If we dare to try this revolutionary approach, initially we find ourselves practicing it a bit too late to affect much change, well after the storm has passed. Or we simply cannot imagine what the 10% right part could possibly be.


In those cases, I suggest you look at the deeper need behind your opponent’s stance, even if you only remembered to do it when you are through with the conversation. Perhaps they want to feel like they are making a contribution, or they want to grow their career. Perhaps they are afraid of change, or have felt marginalized. When you begin to grasp how they are feeling, the 10% usually magically appears. Then it is time to reinvest in a conversation that acknowledges and understands their views, so you can build a solution—together.


If you'd like some support navigating conflict or handling difficult conversations, be sure to apply for your complimentary strategy session and we can start making some progress!


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