Graham Price explains how the Exchange Process can be a useful tool in resolving conflict
There are various tools I teach my clients to use when resolving conflict. This article describes a powerful tool called the ‘exchange process’. It generally has a big impact in reducing or eliminating conflict; I often use it with my “couples” clients but it can be used in any conflict between two people.
In this stage, each person has a designated amount of time to express their perspective on an issue. The time can be agreed beforehand or left flexible. When someone is speaking, the other person must listen and cannot talk or interrupt. When the first person has finished, or the pre-agreed time runs out, the second person can speak, again without interruption. They keep swapping until both participants have said everything they want to say. The whole stage can have a time limit if you wish. Stage 1 is then over, and stage 2 begins.
In stage 2, each person can only speak about what they could do to satisfy the other person’s perspective. Again, they take it in turns with no interruptions. Again, there can be a pre-agreed time limit or it can be left flexible.
Some of the tools that I have mentioned in previous articles can be helpful here, such as:
Accepting What Is (Pacceptance)
A four-step process to eliminate negative thoughts. (The average person has around 20 negative thoughts per day. I meet clients who have many hundreds per day).
Recognise we’re having a negative thought.
Acknowledge the thought involves ‘wishing for the impossible’. Negative thoughts always want something to be different. The past and present can never be different … it’s too late. Worry about the future only ever entails something we believe we cannot control. Or we only ever worry to the extent that we believe some aspect of the worry is not in our control. If we could control it, we wouldn’t be worrying.
Entails dropping the irrational thought, in the case of worry, replacing it with ‘que sera sera, whatever will be will be’, and accepting that. The thought may come back. If that happens, go back to step 2, then drop the thought again. It won’t keep coming back.
Entails focusing on anything we can do to improve the future. In the case of worry that entails ‘what can we do, if anything, to gain more control?’
This tool recognises that everything we or others have done is always the only thing we could have done. That’s because everything we’ve done was totally determined by two things … the situation we were in at the time and who we were at that moment. Who we are at any moment is made up of things like our knowledge and abilities, our beliefs and awareness, our morals and values, our unconscious programming and a bunch of other things that, together, determine how our mind works at any moment.
This entails noticing what our mindset or ‘auto-pilot’ is about to get us to do and choosing to do something more positive or productive instead.
Owning our reactions
Recognising that our reactions are always driven by us. The other person is just the trigger for our reactive programming.
These statements are about expressing the impact the other person’s behaviour has on our feelings or emotions.
Contribution is about living our lives contributing to the lives of others all the time.
A commitment is an unbreakable promise to act in a certain way, now-forward.
Stage 3 of the Exchange Process involves a discussion about what compromises, mutual agreements, win-win solutions, or concessions we can agree now, to resolve the conflict.
The above exchange process is a powerful way to resolve any conflict. I suggest you use it whenever appropriate. It can be repeated if required to continue to move things forwards. It can be used to resolve any conflict, such as between two people or organisations, up to international conflicts, even those involving aggression and violence.