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3 Powerful Conflict-Resolution Strategies From an Anti-terrorism Leader

Inc magazine


Aldo Civico& Bill Carmody

No matter how intense theconflict is in your life and business, chances are it’s relatively small incomparison to what Aldo Civico has been through. He began his career fightingthe mafia in Italy (his own country), then facilitated ceasefire talks betweenthe guerrillas and the government of Columbia, which led him to work in severalcountries from Mexico to Haiti to the Middle East and Syria.

Mr. Civico has been in themiddle of some serious antiterrorist action over his career and now teaches atRutgers University and Columbia University. I had the opportunity to speak withMr. Civico and asked him to share the most critical lessons he’s learned thatwould be applicable to entrepreneurs and these are the top three insights heshared.

1) Deploy the Power ofListening. The biggest mistake most people make when facing conflict is thatthey are so focused on what they want to say that they fail to hear the needsof the person they are in conflict with. In Mr. Civico’s own words, “Whenyou listen you connect with the other person. Listening elicits the model ofthe world by which the other operates. It facilitates understanding the needs,fears, desires of the other. It also helps you to get a different perspectiveabout your own perception. It gets you out of your head and it opens up a spaceof possibilities. It’s the easiest concession we can make in a negotiation.Many people ask me how it’s possible for me to sit down with individuals whohave perpetrated violence at massive scale. The response is simple: I sit downand I listen to their stories. When I listen I’m like a treasure hunter,searching for that part of humanity to connect with and to understand thepositive intention that is behind behaviors that can be also destructive. So, listeningis an essential quality of leaders.”

2) Take a Deep Breath andDon’t React. Inevitably, there will come a point in the negotiation when youwant to explode. That’s the moment when you need to take a deep breath andavoid letting your emotions take over. “Instead, as William Ury says, goto the balcony,” explains Mr. Civico. “Mastering your emotions iswhat helps you to own a situation. Step back and get the bigger picture. Whenyou are in a reactive mode, you give up your power, you become an hostage ofthe other person or of the situation. Rather than reacting to a situation youhave to respond. Take a walk, go running, or just look at the tip of your shoesand that will get your mind of the intense negative emotions. Negotiation isabout influence, but we need to influence ourselves first.”

This insight is so mucheasier to say and so much harder to do. When you are in the heat of the moment,your natural tendency is to allow your emotions to get the better of you. Thisis when you need to slow down and breathe the most. By taking the time to thinkthough an intelligent response, you avoid making the most common mistake ofreacting to the moment, an off-color comment, or the situation in general.

3) Ask Powerful Questions.Powerful questions can never be answered with a “yes” or”no” response but rather open up the art of the possible. Powerfulquestions demonstrate that you have accomplished #1 and #2 above. Specifically,you can only ask powerful questions if you have listened and taken the time NOTto react.

“Asking powerfulquestions,” explains Mr. Civico, “allows you to explorepossibilities, to unlock potential, to unstick a situation. The map is not theterritory and by asking powerful questions we have the possibility to explorethe map of the others, and also to get closer to the territory.”

I asked Mr. Civico for someadvise on asking powerful questions, to which he responded, “I do my bestto avoid asking why questions because it puts people on the defense and to wantto justify themselves. I prefer to ask how and what because it invites to sharea narrative, and to tell facts. If someone doesn’t perform as agreed orexpected, asking why can sound accusatory. If I ask, “What made you dropthe ball?,” I’m not attacking or being judgmental, but rather aminterested in really understanding what’s going on. It opens the space for aconversation.”

And ultimately, that’s howyou defuse conflict–be it in business or in life. You need to create the spacefor a conversation and come to a mutual understanding. By listening, notreacting and asking powerful questions, you demonstrate that you’re focused anddedicated to the outcome of the conflict resolution. This requires emotionalintelligence to be sure, but there’s no question if you go into a conflict withthese three insights, you’re less likely to make the most common mistakes thatexacerbate, rather than resolve conflicts.

If you want to go even deeperwith the principles, tools and strategies that Aldo Civico has used to work inviolent conflicts and dealing with terrorists, you can upgrade your capacity toinfluence as leaders of innovation by going deeper with the content availablevia his website (especially his eBook “How to Deal with DifficultPeople”). He’s also invited you to email him directly.


Aldo Civicois a mediator and anthropologist and the founder of the International Institutefor Peace at Rutgers University. Previously, he was the director of the Centerfor International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. Sen. GeorgeMitchell has called Aldo, “one of the most innovative leaders in the field ofconflict resolution.” He helps organizations and high-potential individuals toachieve desired results and to maximize performance by developing the skillsthat top mediators use to turn around complex situations and to resolve toughproblems.

Aldo has been on the frontline of conflict resolution and training. For the past almost 15 years, he hasconducted challenging fieldwork in Colombia among members of paramilitary deathquads, guerrillas, and youth gangs. From 2005 to 2007, he was one of thefacilitators of the cease fire talks between the government of Colombia and theguerrilla of the National Liberation Army. In the 1990s, he was a strategiccommunication adviser to the anti-mafia Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando.Before coming to the United States in 2000, he worked as a freelance journalistand author of numerous TV documentaries for media in Germany, Switzerland andItaly.

Bill Carmodyis the founder and CEO of Trepoint and a 22-year digital marketing veteran. Hispurpose in life is to be an inspirational leader who enjoys solving problemsand creating breakthroughs for those brave enough to build a better future

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