Conflict between people often arises when we have different views, priorities or beliefs.
The more convinced we are of our own perspective, the less we can relate to the other person and our conflicts get entrenched.
In this context, what matters is that our left and right brain have a completely different way of looking at and experiencing the world, and thus of experiencing conflict.
What is the difference between the left brain and the right brain?
We seamlessly use our left brain and right brain all the time, yet many of us lead a left-brain dominant life as a consequence of our education, communication and work environments.
What does this mean? Imagine the two halves of your brain as two people walking next to each other and the left person walks upfront, therefore experiencing and responding to the world around them first.
The left brain is efficient and effective. It takes in information from the world around us and simplifies it so we can get things done, strengthening our practical, strategic and analytical skills.
On the other side, the right brain experiences the full richness of the world and connects us to the world around us, including other people.
The left brain is efficient and effective. It takes in information from the world around us and simplifies it so we can get things done, strengthening our practical, strategic and analytical skills
Examples of left-brain thinking versus right-brain thinking
To illustrate the difference: imagine you have dinner with a friend, and the next day a colleague asks you, ‘How was your evening?’. You might say, ‘I had a wonderful dinner with great food and conversation’.
They might then ask ‘What did you eat?’. You share with your colleague that you tried a new delicious Ottolenghi recipe and send them the link via WhatsApp so they can try it themselves.
It is the same for every moment. We try to capture the moment by dividing it into parts, logical and methodical, and in doing so we are able to utilise and share it.
This is the unique capability of our left brain; to make the world tangible for us, so we can exert influence and control over it. Still, that representation will always be a simplification.
If you had replied differently, such as, ‘I had a wonderful dinner with my friend, it was like a trip into our own Narnia’, you would have expressed something different about the evening: the magic of the moment, the richness of sensations, and the depth of feeling.
The right brain helps you think holistically
The images through which the right brain communicates facilitate this more holistic perspective. When you share some of that image, you will inevitably share more about what matters to you, which strengthens your connection with your colleague.
While the left brain helps us to be effective, it can also get trapped in its own system, paying attention only to what it already knows.
In those moments, the right brain’s experience of the world is essential to get unstuck even in the thorniest of conflicts.
While the left brain helps us to be effective, it can also get trapped in its own system, paying attention only to what it already knows
Engaging the right brain for a fresh perspective
First, as the right brain sees the whole, anything that is new also first comes into awareness into our right brain. So any glimmer of a new idea, a fresh perspective, or innovative solution can only be recognised when the right brain is actively engaged.
The right brain is also instrumental in the way we relate to other people. With the right brain, we see what connects us rather than what keeps us apart.
We can see and feel common ground, we can imagine the perspective of someone else and we can express that perspective to those around us.
In essence, the left brain separates us from the world (‘I’) while the right brain integrates us with the world (‘we’).
Techniques to activate your staff’s right brain to overcome workplace conflicts
1. Draw the team
As the right brain processes in images, drawing works particularly well to illustrate a complicated situation where the essence of the conflict can be difficult to summarise in a few words.
It naturally focuses the mind and the conversation.
If you’ve noticed some tension in your team’s dynamic or a certain employee seems disconnected, ask them to draw the team (stick figures are fine).
Drawing the current team system provides you and your employee with an immediate shared understanding of the situation based on eg. how far people are apart, who comes first or last on the page, who smiles and who doesn’t.
After the initial drawing of the current situation, the next step is to see what forces would improve the system.
Simple questions are essential, such as: ‘What would make this better?’ or ‘where do you want this to go?’ or ‘what movement would help the situation?’.
Give the person the pen immediately so you get the input on the picture. Without that, the discussion will slip into left-brain problem solving and the right brain’s input might be missed.
Any glimmer of a new idea, a fresh perspective, or innovative solution can only be recognised when the right brain is actively engaged
2. Use metaphors
Metaphors are another powerful visioning tool that engages the right brain to flesh out conflicts at work and find solutions moving forward.
If one employee is clashing heads with another, you can guide them to find a metaphor that describes the conflict by asking what colour, sports, music or animal comes to mind when thinking about their colleague.
Taking colour as an example, you can explore this further by asking your employee ‘what things come to mind when you think of that colour?’.
Identifying the positives within the colour metaphor will help your employee to establish ways to bring out more of that ‘colour’ in their colleague to cultivate better connection and collaboration in the real world.
It is important that you give some attention to the metaphor so it becomes clearly visible in both your minds, before you investigate what the metaphor tells you about the situation at hand.
The right brain is like your personal genie in the bottle – an enormous power for you and your team
The right ingredients for conflict resolution
In a nutshell, when inviting the right brain to participate in a conversation we are naturally creative and collaborative.
We see more, think differently, and bring new insights. We are more in touch with our environment and with the people around us.
These are the ingredients that help us resolve conflicts. The right brain is like your personal genie in the bottle – an enormous power for you and your team to release and use.
If you enjoyed this, read: Ten tips to harness your brain’s full potential