When asked what I do I often respond that I help people articulate and protect their interests. Most of the time the response I get is a puzzled look. I suppose it might be easier to say that I help people deal with conflict. However, that is not always true.
What I do is help people figure out what their problem really is. People like to think that it is the other person who is creating their problems. This is not true as much as we would like to believe it is. And as a result, we often create conflict simply by refusing to consider any other view than our own.
I have heard from people how they keep having the same types of problems over and over; through time and having the same issues with different people. When I try to get them to think about why this is happening the tendency is to blame others. We like to think of ourselves as the good guy. It is very easy create problems for other people unintentionally, consequently causing conflict.
When I have told people that they seem to be the only common denominator in their conflict stories, I sometimes get a confused look, and sometimes I get a dirty look. Then they carry on with their conflict stories convinced that other people are the problem. I cannot help these people with their conflicts.
Sometimes people do listen to me. In these cases I work with them to figure out what their true issues are. The real issues are generally not what the person is initially worried about. Sometimes it is easy to figure out what is really causing the conflict, at other times it requires a lot of digging.
So then, helping someone articulate their interests is about finding out what the real issues that drive the conflict are. This is not an always an easy or simple process; it involves a warts and all examination of our motivations and feelings. But, at the end of the process it helps you understand what is important to you. It is much easier to protect what is important to you, your interests, when you know what they are.