This Simple Model Is a Cure for Conflict, Failure, and Rejection
The ‘three-sided column’ helps you focus on your future instead of your crippling past
Think of the last time you’ve experienced conflict, failure, or rejection in your life.
Got a situation in mind? Now, try to remember the thoughts that were going through your head. Be honest — were you thinking something along these lines?
Poor me, I did not deserve this!
It’s the other person’s fault!
And in case you talked to friends and family about the situation, did they reply something like this?
Oh no, that must have been tough for you!
That‘s totally not your fault.
Don’t get me wrong — these are empathetic replies, and they comfort us for a little while. Yet, there is a harsh truth we have to face: pitying ourselves and blaming others for our problems won’t solve the problem. It doesn’t matter if it was your fault or someone else’s. Likewise, blaming others will only cost you valuable time and energy.
So, what can we do instead?
The Conflict Is a Three-Sided Column
Alfred Adler, one of the most influential psychologists of the last century, proposes a solution to the problem; imagine your conflict as a three-sided column.¹
Currently, you’re facing two of the three column’s sides; the conflict’s only options seem to be “pity yourself” and “blame others”.²
But what happens when we turn the column around? The conflict is now upside down, and the options “pity yourself” and “blame others” disappear. The column now offers us a third option — find a solution.
This approach seems simple and yet, most people are blind to it because they waste all their energy on pitying themselves or blaming others.
According to Adler, the key question you need to ask yourself is:
What should I do from now on?
What happened in the past can not be changed. We only have control over what happens in the present moment. With this in mind, you’ll forget about the past and approach the conflict from a solution-oriented perspective.
Applying the Three-Sided Column
Initially, we will face the column’s pointy side. That’s almost inevitable. It is thus vital to keep reminding ourselves of the hidden third option — find a solution.
Not too long ago, I experienced this myself.
After a dispute, a good friend of mine walked away from me without saying a word. He didn’t reply to any of my messages or calls afterward, and we stopped talking for several months.
In this, I also made the mistake of only facing the pointy side of the column. I kept thinking to myself over and over:
It’s not my fault! He is the one who walked away from me. If he wants to remain one of my friends, it’s his responsibility to apologize to me.
After three months of silence, I finally managed to turn the column around. So I reached out to him. We then both apologized, talked things out, and have remained in close contact ever since.
Finding a solution includes talking about what happened with empathy and looking for the best strategy to avoid conflict in the future.
What If There Is No Solution?
Life is complicated, so be prepared for conflicts to arise you cannot solve. But even then, pitying yourself or blaming others must not be an option. In these cases, I find the serenity prayer highly soothing. (Just like me, you don’t need to be religious to grasp the full impact of these verses.)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
You can not only apply this in conflicts but also when experiencing rejection, loss, or failure. Remember, though: acceptance should not be confused with blindly taking everything as it is. Instead, it means to be at peace with the situation from within.
The Bottom Line
To sum up, we have three options when faced with conflicts:
- Pity ourselves
- Blame others
- Find a solution
Despite its simplicity, the choice of finding a solution requires high levels of mindfulness, wisdom, and — above all — courage. If there is no solution, dare to be at peace with the situation.
So be courageous the next time you face a conflict in life. Turn the column around. You will see how much of your precious time and energy it can save you.
¹ Concept presented in Kishimi, I., & Koga, F. (2019). The courage to be happy: Discover the power of positive psychology and choose happiness every day. Atria Books.
² In The courage to be happy, these two sides are called “Poor me” and “The evil other.”