Posts Tagged ‘fighting’

A better way to fight

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m bad at fighting.

Most of my life I’ve been a conflict-avoider, sweeping potential disagreements under the proverbial rug. But these days I seem to face contentions head-on, boxing gloves poised and ready. This is good, for the most part–running from conflict rarely solves anything. However, now that I’m not afraid to take on the hard conversations and can bring up the minors before they become majors,  I realize I could use some fighting skills. It seems I’m doing it all wrong — taking things personally, bringing up past issues that have nothing to do with the present, throwing in hurtful digs, albeit slight and ‘hidden’ (but not really). I shut down after I speak my peace and am closed-minded and judgmental when the other person expresses their side of things, wounding my dissentient and getting my own feelings hurt in the process.

So I write this article for me. And for any of you who struggle when it comes to conflict resolve.

We’ve developed bad habits

Of course, we don’t make fighting a goal. In a perfect world, we’d tune into our emotions well before conflict arises and use these wise old friends to guide us as we manage our behavior, thwarting tensions before they erupt into battles. But then again, we’re human, imperfect and immature and insensitive at times, so it’s highly likely disagreements will evolve into fights. Most of us have picked up some poor habits, as early as childhood, and haven’t learned there is a better way.

But before we look into acquiring some new fighting skills, let’s determine first if your conflict management needs some work. Here are some things you don’t want to choose to do when troubles arise:

  • Fail to listen to the other person’s point of view with an open mind
  • Instead of seeking to find common ground, fight for your own way or ideas
  • Do most of the talking in disagreements
  • Feel extremely uncomfortable when conflict arises
  • Don’t use tact when voicing your concerns, rather, you demean the other person and/or their ideas and/or use crass language to prove your point
  • Say things like “always”, “never”, and “everyone thinks this way…” (as if you know how everyone else in the world thinks or does things)
  • Bring up the past to prove your point of “Here we go again…”
  • Use put downs and demeaning words, saying things you know you’ll regret later
  • View the other person as an adversary or foe because they don’t agree with you
  • Think things like, “If only they would change, this could be resolved.”
  • Quit and run away before the conflict is resolved
  • Use dishonesty to put an end to the conflict rather than being authentic with your feelings
  • View yourself as more superior, smarter, or ‘a better person’ because of how the other person is feeling/acting

Which of these best describes your boxing tactics?

It starts with Self-Awareness

Whether you choose one or all of the above when conflict hits, learning a new way of fighting can take some work. As with any behavior, we can make shifts in a new direction, but it’s not always easy. But devoting effort to the development of conflict resolve skills will serve us well when the next battle comes along.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

So where do we bad fighters start?

First of all, as with most things — becoming self-aware is a good initial step. Take note of the poor habits you use when fighting, write them down, and take a hard look at them. Do they serve you well or do they usually escalate the conflict, or cause further avoidance? How do you feel when you act that way? How does it make the other person feel when you act that way? Most likely the things you’re writing are not the most positive. It’s OK.  Recognizing the need to change often comes from acknowledging the hurt we are causing ourselves and others.

Managing our behavior

Now that you’re ready to make some shifts, simply acknowledging bad behaviors is not enough. And just erasing them won’t help either.  As with the breaking of any old habit, it’s beneficial to have a new toolkit at your disposal full of actions to replace ineffective behaviors.  Here are a few to try:

  • Separate the person from the problem.  Don’t let yourself go down the path of “this person is bad, wrong, selfish, etc.” because they have a differing opinion.  Fight the desire to label them and instead, focus on the disagreement at hand.
  • Lay down preconceived ideas. It’s easy to think you already have everything figured out before the conflict even begins. Be present and ask clarifying questions where needed so you’re sure you understand their viewpoint, not your interpretation of their viewpoint.
  • Take a deep breath and slow down.  An overload of feelings can cause an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes our emotions. Because the emotional processing in our brain happens much more quickly than the rational side, if the amygdala perceives the situation is at a “fight or flight” level of danger, it will trigger a response that shuts down the rational side of our brains, causing us to say and do things we’ll regret later. Trust me, this is something to avoid.
  • Listen to understand. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and tune in to what they’re saying, and not saying.  Watch for body language (are they agitated, are they scared, etc.) and attempt to hear what they need/want in this situation, not just what is coming out of their mouth.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt the situation?”  Sounds simple, but it’s very effective! Choose your words carefully and be sure not to throw out insults or put-downs in the heat of the moment.
  • Remind yourself that their way may be a better way. Be curious. Have an open mind and think of the conversation as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas rather than taking offense because they don’t agree with you.

“When we aren’t curious in conversations we judge, tell, blame and even shame, often without even knowing it, which leads to conflict.” — Kristen Siggins

  • Don’t attach judgments about their character because of their opinions. Again, separate out the issue from the person and fight the urge to jump to conclusions about their moral integrity just because you don’t like what they’re saying.
  • Be aware that the other person is experiencing his/her own set of emotions.  There may be drivers going on that you’re not aware of — past hurts, disappointments, or struggles that the other person is dealing with.  Offer some grace, in the moment, as you seek to understand the why behind their actions or words.
  • Find a way to say something valuing about the other person. Even if you don’t agree with them, making the other person feel valued for who they are, in the heat of an argument, can do wonders to diffusing anger and frustration levels. A great sentence starter is, “You know what I like about you?” then fill in the rest with a sincere, kind word.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — ancient proverb

  • Remember that the goal here is coming to a solution that works for both parties, not getting your own way. This may mean you have to reach a compromise where both of you give up a little to arrive at a peaceful outcome.

I know, easier said than done. If this list seems daunting, pick just one goal and focus on it for the next few weeks. Talk to a coach or counselor about the areas you struggle most with and seek an outside opinion on how you could begin to make some shifts. Then get out there and practice.

For those of you (us) who have done it all wrong, going back to that person and offering a sincere, “I’m sorry” can do wonders to soften pain of the blows you delivered. It takes humility and courage to admit our errors and ask forgiveness of the other person. They may reject you, scoff at you, or even attempt to continue the fight — but these three magical words can do as much for your own angry heart as it can the other person.

Unless you live on an uninhabited, deserted island, where you have no contact with others, there will be conflicts on the road ahead. Coming prepared with healthy, helpful tactics will enable both of you to stay standing at the end of each round. Even better, as you work on your own conflict management skills, you may come to realize that it was never a fight at all, but a passionate interaction between two unique and worthy individuals, on the same team, working toward the same goal, each offering the gift of learning something new.

“We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” — William Shatner

How is your conflict resolve working for you?

scarlettArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I often get accused of being passive-aggressive when it comes to resolving conflict. And I don’t deny it. Well, at least not the entire accusation. When conflict arises, I am passive but I am not aggressive. I’m not a yeller, I don’t explode, and I’ve never thrown things or slapped someone in the face like they do so promptly (and somehow seemingly consequence-free) in the movies. Remember when Scarlett threw the vase at Rhett? (Me either, it was a little before my time, but I’ve heard about it.)  When in conflict I tend to camp out in Wayne Dyer’s mindset when he said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” But my lack of vase-throwing does not elevate me above those who do. My passiveness is equally hurtful and unhelpful in conflict resolve. It drives people nuts, especially those who tend to be competitive or controlling. Heck, it drives me nuts! Why can’t I just voice my opinion, yell a little, and get mad?!

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call from someone carrying quite a bit of pent-up anger directed toward me. (These are rare, mind you, lest you think I’m a high-conflict sort of person). She was upset, to say the least, and I could hear a shaky anger in her voice. She became quite vocal, asked me questions but answered them herself, and even threw out a bit of name-calling.

I know her words probably should have riled me up, but they didn’t. When she reached her peak of spewing, I sensed the blank expression on my face and could actually feel a cloud of grey, emotionless fog creeping into my bones. I wasn’t tuning her out. I actually heard her quite nicely (because she was very loud at that point), and think I understood where she was coming from. It’s just that she’s someone who gets angry often, at many people, and I’ve learned to separate her stress from my stress. She gets upset but that doesn’t mean I have to get upset. Nevertheless–my passiveness, though it may protect my heart in moments such as these, actually escalated her anger and didn’t help with the conflict resolution one bit.

I have always carried a bit of guilt about my lack of Scarlett-ness when it comes to conflict resolve because so many people have told me it’s not healthy. Well-meaning friends have actually chided me to show my anger, to punch something! Passiveness is my own brand of avoidance, I’ll admit. But sometimes it really seems to work to de-escalate a situation. Yet other times, like on the recent phone call, it just makes things worse…which leaves me not feeling so great about my problem solving skills.

So is avoidance good or bad?! I only recently learned, from the work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in 1974, creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to assess an individual’s behavior in conflict, that there are different approaches to resolving conflict and each approach is correctdepending upon the moment. The 5 Conflict Resolution Styles they came up with are:

  • Competing
  • Compromise
  • Avoidance
  • Collaboration
  • Accommodation

Who would’ve known?  I’ve always thought there was one best practice to resolving conflict, and knew I didn’t have it. I figured I just needed to be more assertive. And the thing is, I do. At times. But sometimes, I need to be more accommodating. And other times, a little more compromising would do the trick. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than another way –it’s just a matter of figuring out WHICH method is most appropriate for the situation at hand.

So how do we know when to use which style of conflict management? Authors of  the book Competence in Interpersonal Conflict, William Cupach and Daniel Canary, said this,

“There is little value in preparing a cookbook of recipes for conflict success. The effects of conflict interaction depend directly on what the participants do mentally with conflict behaviors – that is, how they process and interpret those behaviors.”

Regrettably there’s not an easy formula to use, an ‘input = output’. I’d love to tell you that when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that, but these things called human beings are involved in interpersonal conflict.  Living, breathing, feeling humans with erratic behavior, differing backgrounds and all levels of maturity and ability to manage their own emotions. Not to mention what you bring to the table. And when these feelings clash in passionate discourse, the ability to choose the correct conflict management style can be difficult to say the least. We have to use social and emotional intelligence – the ability to read, in the moment, our own emotions and those of others, and manage them appropriately. In the moment. That’s the hard part. Because in the heat of the moment is when it’s extremely difficult to exercise any kind of control, but in the heat of the moment is when we need to use social and emotional intelligence the most!

And we all have our go-to, preferred style when it comes to managing conflict. What’s yours?  Know that this is normal. We develop it based upon our past experiences of what has worked – and what hasn’t, even from our early childhood. We also learn our style based upon the corporate culture in which we work. For example, in your office, how is conflict typically resolved? Are there frequent blow-ups? Does your manager immediately call a meeting? Do certain coworkers avoid other coworkers? Sometimes we tend to go with the flow of ‘how things are’ in our work environments and adopt those styles as our own. As well, we can learn our own style of conflict resolve based upon observing others and seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

No matter your current style of conflict resolve, it doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself to learn a new way of operating. Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist, put it this way:

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties:  You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”

Since most conflicts that arise can’t exactly be altered, as they’ve already taken place, our choice is how we alter ourselves to meet them.

Learning to use each of these styles, depending upon the situation, will increase our interpersonal effectiveness and ability to work well with others. Let’s look at the 5 styles to 1-see which best describes you and 2-learn when using this style is most effective:

The Competitor.  You are assertive and aggressive, and tend to dominate disagreements. You demonstrate little concern for the opinion of others. While this method can be hurtful and stifling to the other parties involved, the Competitor is vital in situations where decisiveness is necessary. Emergencies in which quick action is needed cry out for the Competitor, often when the issue requires an unpopular action.

The Compromiser.  You are cooperative and assertive and act as a bridge between team members. You are agreeable to both sides of the conflict and can see the benefits of both viewpoints. The danger in this is that you are seen as not having a firm set of values, and at times you may not even recognize what you stand for. But the Compromiser is very beneficial to situations where a temporary settlement is called for on issues that are more complex, or when you need to find short-term solutions for the benefit of the relationship.

The Avoider.  You (me) can easily shrug off conflict. You refuse to engage in heated arguments, never let your temper rise and quickly disconnect from the other person’s viewpoint. Though this style can delay problem-resolve, and if overused breeds a lack of empathy, it is helpful when there are more pressing matters to tackle to keep everyone focused on what is important.  The Avoider can ‘turn down the heat’, (you’ve heard the saying it takes two to tumble) and slow things down so all of the information needed to resolve the conflict can be gathered.

The Collaborator.  You are a good listener and like the Compromiser, able to cooperate and assert your opinions simultaneously; however, you actively seek to find a resolution so both sides win. You can be taken advantage of by more assertive team members, but this style is crucial when the objective is to integrate differing points of view and keep the team intact.

The Accommodator.  Harmony and cooperation are important to you. You are willing to put aside your own needs out of concern for the others and for the sake of the team. Though you tend to resist changes that are inevitable, this style is valuable when it is important to keep the peace or elevate positivity. Being accommodating is a good style to use when you realize you are wrong, or need to be the voice of reason. The Accommodator’s influence has a long reach and when conflict comes up again down the road,  teammates remember that you were willing to see things from a different point of view.

So there you go. Easy as pie, huh? Just pick the right style for the right situation and you’re set!  We all know it is easier said than done, and learning to navigate conflict resolve with ease can take a lifetime. But we may as well get busy figuring this out, as conflict is a part of being human. Saul Alinsky, community organizer and writer, sums it up with this:

 ”Conflict is a part of life. Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

Conflict is not going away. But learning to deal with it in a healthier, more productive style can be learned. And the rewards of learning how to use the correct style of conflict management for the right occasion will bring us the gift of healthier, stronger interpersonal relationships.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach

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