Conflicts between people are always going to be part of life. Looking forward to a future relationship? There will be conflict at times. Navigating a co-parenting journey with your ex? There will be disagreements from time to time there so you need to learn about managing conflict.
There is a technique I practice with my clients that’s incredibly powerful and transformative – it’s my secret weapon for dissolving conflict. Shoe Shifting, as I call it, is really a very simple idea. It requires you to step into the mindset of the person you are at loggerheads with and describe the conflict from their perspective. That means trying to look at the situation through their eyes. To whatever extent you can, you need to think about what this must be like for them, with that person’s limiting beliefs, their communication style, and their emotional baggage.
I remember at one of my workshops, I was on stage teaching this exercise with a woman, Gillian. Gillian and her ex, Wade, had split earlier that year, when Wade left her for somebody else. He and Gillian had a son together and conflicts kept erupting between them as they navigated co-parenting. One particular issue had Gillian absolutely furious: a new desk.
She was shaking with anger by the end of telling her version of events.
So what had happened with the desk? Well, as Gillian told it in her first step of the Shoe Shifting exercise, her son was in need of a new desk. She and Wade agreed that Wade would pay for it, as part of their splitting the costs of parenting. Gillian picked out a particular desk that would fit with their son’s décor, as well as physically fit perfectly into the spot she’d prepared for it. She sent the link to Wade for him to order. Weeks went by without any desk, and Gillian kept reaching out to Wade about it, asking him if he’d ordered it yet. Finally, weeks late, the new desk arrived at Gillian’s house – but it wasn’t the desk she’d picked out. It didn’t match the new furniture, and didn’t even fit where she’d planned to put it. When she called Wade to confront him about it, she found out that not only did he order a different desk – his new girlfriend had been the one to pick it out.
Gillian was furious about this. When she told the story on stage at the workshop, over a month had passed, but she was still shaking with anger by the end of telling her version of events. Clearly, it was about more than just the desk. Gillian described how she felt completely belittled and ignored, how she felt that Wade was trying to make his new girlfriend the decision-maker when it came to her son, and how frustrated she was when she thought about having to deal with this kind of thing for years to come.
On stage, I told Gillian to stand up from the chair she’d been sitting in. Then I told her that when she sat back down, she would be in Wade’s shoes, and would tell us what happened from his perspective. “Ugh, I don’t even want to be inside his head for a second,” Gillian groaned. But I urged her to give it a shot, and she relented.
So she sat back down, and started telling the story again.
“Well,” she said, slowly at first then picking up speed, “I’ve never been good about getting stuff like this handled. I have a bad habit of forgetting little tasks like ordering stuff we need. I know I do it, and it stresses me out, but I just procrastinate and forget things. So I kept forgetting to order the desk for weeks, and I felt really guilty about it. When I finally went online to order it, the desk that Gillian had picked out was out of stock. I felt awful. My girlfriend is good at interior design, she’s a real estate agent, and I’m no good at that stuff, so I asked her advice. She picked out one that she thought would work, and I ordered it. I thought Gillian would be happy that I ordered a good replacement, but she was just furious. Which only made me upset, because I always feel like nothing I do is good enough for her.”
When Gillian finished her retelling, she had a shocked look on her face.
“Ok great,” I said. “Now one more time, from a trusted third party.”
After just a few minutes, all of her anger evaporated.
Gillian started telling the story again, from the perspective of their son’s teacher. “It’s clear to me,” she said, “that both Gillian and Wade are making Seth a priority here. They both care about his schooling, and are both trying to do their best when it comes to this new co-parenting arrangement. But they’re both holding onto a lot of baggage from their relationship, and it makes it hard for them to communicate about things. I think it’s clear how much they love Seth though, and that he’s what matters most to them.”
By the end of the Shoe Shifting, Gillian was laughing at how angry she’d been. After just a few minutes, all of her anger evaporated – and that anger had been boiling for weeks. Right then and there, she texted Wade to apologize for being so upset, and thanked him for making the effort to get Seth a great desk.
That’s the power of Shoe Shifting. It can take all of the negative energy around a conflict, even if that conflict and energy have been boiling for a long time, and just dissolve it all.
So the next time you get stuck in a conflict, or start to feel those negative feelings building up around a conflict, just pull out this secret weapon and fire away.
Sara Davison is a bestselling author and an award-winning authority on breakup and divorce, best known as ‘The Divorce Coach’. For a one to one coaching session with Sara or to book her online coaching course please visit: www.saradavison.com