Is it time to find a new filter for your conflict?

conflict filters

You can’t change an ongoing state of conflict by viewing it repeatedly from the same perspective. You’ve got to find a new filter or two.

Years ago, I bought a pair of sports sunglasses with swappable lenses for differing conditions. I didn’t take the time to experiment with the different lenses and settled into wearing the dark gray lenses all the time. They did the job well enough.

Until I discovered they didn’t. One day while cleaning out a drawer I came across the other lenses and the booklet describing their best uses. Next time out in my kayak, I tried the amber lenses for better contrast and found it easier to see large boulders lurking just beneath the water surface. Hiking on a rainy day, I found the light-enhancing lenses better for the dull light conditions.

The approaches you typically use to resolve conflict are like wearing a single pair of lenses. They work well enough most of the time. But for conflict that’s gotten stuck, they cause you to miss opportunities and stumble more than necessary. You don’t notice the hidden boulders beneath the surface until you bump into them. You slip more frequently on the slick muddy surface of the trail.

When a conflict gets stuck, you need a new filter to help you see what you’re missing. Sometimes you need several filters. Those filters can be things like these:

  • A friend who helps you not by soothing, not by giving advice, but by lovingly challenging your thinking.
  • A mediator. The best of us know how to help you view the conflict through more effective filters.
  • A conflict coach. The best of us know how to help you develop your own capacity to find and use new filters.
  • An approach designed to cause lens swapping. I hope my forthcoming The Conflict Pivot will be that for you.
  • A jolt out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you get lucky and the universe helps you out.

Do you have a story about changing filters and seeing something in a new way? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Image credit: Image adapted from original by Florin Gorgan

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  1. says

    I use to draw and paint a lot. . .until life seemed to take over. Two things that were always tremendously helpful in my artwork was: 1) squinting, and 2) constantly altering my distance from my work.

    1) Squinting. Try it. Darks look darker. Lights look lighter. Chiaroscuro. In other words, squinting enhances the ability to see strong contrasts more clearly. Important features jump out. Less important features fade. I use this concept in conflict situations as a tool to focus in on the essence of the conflict when everything starts looking like a big jumbled mess.

    2) Altering my distance from my work. Because I tend to be a detail type of person, it’s tempting to remain up close to my work at all times. However, I’ve learned the importance of consistently stepping back so I can see the whole picture. It’s sort of a systems approach. In a painting, as in conflict, the microcosmic and macrocosmic viewpoints work to create balance and harmony.

    I hope this doesn’t sound too esoteric (or just plain weird)!! :)


    • says

      I always knew you were weird, Debra ;)

      Those make perfect sense to me. I learned the value of changing distance when viewing art when studying the impressionists and I still move all around when going to museums, trying to find the best angle and distance to take in any kind of painting or work of art.

      Thanks for contributing!

  2. says

    Two things that were always tremendously helpful in my artwork were. . .(not was!): 1) squinting, and 2) constantly altering my distance from my work.

  3. Martha-Lynn says

    I am a mediator with personal story of conflict and new filters… My son was a preemie baby and very, very sick in a neonatal ICU ward. For 77 days I spent 10-12 hours a day at the side of his “isolette”. One day, while the doctors and interns were coming around to do their rounds, I watched my baby’s oxygen level start falling and continue to drop and drop. I called for a nurse using a remote call button, but his monitor alerts were going off, and, being a terrified mom, I went to the group of doctors and told them we needed help. They promptly assessed his condition, and determined that the ventilator tube in his throat had come out far enough that he wasn’t getting oxygen and they were going to have to reinsert the tube immediately. They asked me if I would like to step out while they did the procedure. I told them, “No thank you, I’ll stay.” The next day, I noticed the doctors and the nurses all seemed a little cold to me, and I had to wonder what I had done to contribute to this shift.
    What I came to realize was that I had taken their request for me to leave as my option, and I opted to stay. What they actually meant was, “We need you to step out while we insert a blade into your baby boy’s mouth to replace this oxygen tube.” My having declined the option of stepping out of the room, while in my highly alert state, seemed a perfectly valid, even brave, choice to me. To them, it seemed that I was being distrustful and disrespectful of their wishes and policy.
    Once I was able to take a step back to see things from their perspective, I was able to pinpoint the issue. I confronted it directly and apologized, and we all actually laughed about it.

    • says

      Martha-Lynn, this is a wonderful story, albeit from what must have been a scary period in you and your son’s lives. Your ability to switch your filter from your own view to theirs must serve you well as a mediator!

  4. Anthony McNeill says

    I am inspired by the views and wisdom embedded in these experiences! It’s like having an inventory of tools for a job and being in a position to recognize what tool’(s) work best in a particular situation of conflict.

  5. Kimberly Higney says

    When newly married, my husband and I would often have conflicts when he fell asleep on the couch at the end of the day. I would become so frustrated and even adamant that he should get up to sleep in our bedroom. It was taking a toll on our relationship nightly until I realized that I had a very specific definition (not even my own really) about how it “should be” and was putting meaning on his actions through the filter of that concept. As soon as I saw this filter, I could ask myself what my bigger value was – a supportive, loving and mutually respectful relationship. Through that new filter I could cover him up with a warm blanket and bring a comfortable pillow so he could get a good night’s rest, and have my actions support our higher good. Interestingly, he hardly ever falls asleep on the couch anymore!

    • says

      Hi, Kimberly, great to hear from you! I didn’t have much chance to get over the seacoast in the fall, hope spring will be different.

      What a good story you share. I love how you switched filters and saw not only a different way to think about the situation, but something you could do differently as a result. And it’s WAY interesting to me that your husband doesn’t fall asleep on the couch much anymore…so much richness in that outcome.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. says

    I love the art and sunglass metaphors for talking about the value of changing filters. Works for intra-personal conflict too. Many years ago, I was unhappy in a job–it didn’t feed my need for creative expression or a sense of self-determination. For a while, all I could see were the dissatisfying aspects of the work. One day, I no longer recall what triggered it, I decided I could continue to be miserable or choose to focus on the good parts of the job like a great team of co-workers. By shifting my attitude, I freed up my energy and soon found a more satisfying situation.

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing such an informative idea. Actually I really suffer sometimes with conflicts with my friends and that’s leads to dis respect and disappointment sometimes and your posts just help me a lot…