Conflict Solved: Doc Peg is IN
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Each of us is unique, especially in how we experience the world. So, what could be more natural than to get on each others' nerves or trip over each others' feet?
Sound like conflict? Well, it probably is, and perfectly normal. Here is how conflict works:
- most people dislike unpredictable, ambiguous futures.
- we either fear change or dislike it intensely.
- conflict - that queasy sensation that something is off - signals a need to change (like a fever signals an infection).
- so, conflict annoys, frustrates, and offends almost everyone (because most people hate ambiguity and change).
- we believe sports metaphors or zero sum models always apply - if one person wins the other person loses.
- our culture limits options. We either prepare for war and possible loss, or for compromise, also not popular since it feels like we are being forced to give something up.
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- we are impatient. The discomfort associated with change and conflict feels unbearable. To make it stop, we grab the first lifeline or procedure or consultant offering relief, regardless of whether the resource fits our situation. No wonder so many solutions do more harm than good.
- finally, we assume future conflicts will be just as unpleasant as past conflicts, so we impulsively act as blindly as in the past. Sad to say, the cycle repeats.
Want some good news?
- conflict rarely involves pathology or evil.
- the discomfort associated with conflict forces action as we try to reestablish our comfort zone.
- some actions enhance relationships and increase group cohesion.
- people and groups that work effectively with conflict are healthier, happier, and more productive.
- helping you break the cycle, helping you create healthy groups and relationships is my goal. I love to help people directly. But, I also hope that the information provided throughout this site makes it easier to solve conflict.
- in conflict there is always danger and opportunity.
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Want to know more? You have come to a straight talk, no sell, solid web site that includes the following tips:
|Interpreting early signs of conflict
Early stage conflict feels like...indigestion, queasiness, a headache. Some people might blush or develop a rash. When it happens to you, focus on the sensation rather than dismissing it. The sensation is telling you someone is:
- blocking you from getting something you want or need (e.g., a raise, funding for a program, recognition, affection, a better office, equipment, etc.);
- stopping you from doing something you want or need to do (e.g., getting out of a relationship, changing jobs or where you live, going on a diet, etc.);
- violating a cherished value (e.g., your religious beliefs, insulting your gender identity, or slamming your culture); or
- all three.
Allow the sensation to trigger a quiet scan. Nothing forces you to act immediately, and waiting will improve what happens next. A scan takes a second, a day, or a week, and the payoff is amazing.
Scans produce information about yourself and the situation, so your eventual actions may:
- solve the problem in unexpectedly positive ways,
- build trust and strengthen relationships,
- improve how your work, play or spiritual groups function,
- enhance your reputation as a leader or team member,
- expand self awareness, and
- please you.
Define “solving” a conflict as less about protecting yourself from change and more about embracing what change has to offer.
Still with me?
|Easy, low risk steps
Low risk steps start with:
1. listen to what your intuition is telling you. Do that internal scan. Ask if:
- your communication and problem solving skills are up to the task?
- acting alone takes you where you want to go? and
3. listen to what others involved in the conflict are saying.
- listen to learn.
- avoid only listening for tidbits of information in order to argue.
- relax, stop talking, and allow silence to encourage others to talk safely. Use soft, not pushy prompts like “uh hu” to encourage even more talk, try not to interrupt. You will begin hearing more than pat phrases and rhetoric.
- if you are genuinely curious, people divulge nuanced messages that belie our assumption we “know what the other person is saying.” Your enhanced understanding facilitates future problem solving. Many of my blogs describe this quiet skill along with the difficulty of actually practicing the skill.
4. explore why your hot buttons are buzzing. What are the issues? Your options are: (see the “Circle of Conflict”) :
- you are not getting good information. What you read or hear may be too little, too late, not accurate, or incomplete. This is a data fight. Data fights are fairly easy to solve as long when they are fresh. A simmering data fight often devolves into a relational fight that rubs emotions raw;
- stuck structures. Structures (e.g., laws, personnel or organizational policies, even a list of "dos" and "don't" on a refrigerator) need updating. But, changing structures is painfully slow. The power elites who create structures resist change, and you have to convince everybody else that any change is good.
- shifting resources. Resources include, but are not limited to: money, power or prestige, office space, perks, anything that makes you feel important or supports a comfortable life style. This defines interest fights, and interest fights permeate complex organizations like corporations, institutions of higher learning or any school system, bodies of elected or appointed public officials, and spiritual communities. Interest and structural conflicts often intersect;
- a sour relationship. Divorce and post-divorce fights, fights between adult siblings, personnel fights, and neighborhood fights exemplify toxic relationships. Relational fights are typically very emotional, can degenerate into what feels like chaos, and are resistant to change. Think of the difficulty of getting away from any abusive relationship or from narcissists. My Doc Peg is IN blog devotes a subcategory to these types of conflict. I can't offer quick, one-size-fits-all remedies. I provide a lot of suggestions.
- a clash of personal or cultural values. Values fights could be compared to a threat level of bright red. Think about pulling the rug out from under how you experience your world, distinguish right from wrong, all the really important stuff like religious expression, life styles, gender identity, "the proper role of women and the family." I don't even try to "resolve" these fights because I'm clear I don't want to ask people to change who they are. I solve them with great glee, and quite often by structuring and facilitating dialogues that offer safe spaces to talk and listen, reflect and understand.
Did you know:
- conflicts rooted in several sources are easier to solve.
- there's more room to negotiate.
- you can ask consultants to scan your situation and recommend several approaches, so they match your situation to the most effective tools (like pairing wine and food).
Finally, decide if your situation is bigger than a personal fight. Is your whole family, business, church or neighborhood under siege? Fights between larger groups are not more difficult that fights in smaller groups, but they are different. Conflicts involving 10 to 15 or more people call for the same tools used in different ways. The Doc Peg is IN blog offers tips about when, where and how.
Take heart in this truism: conflict pulls groups together. People rally around each other and their leaders, follow instructions more closely, and expel dissenters. We followed this pattern as a nation after 9/11. Note another example from a headline proclaiming “Big Oil Closes Ranks Behind BP” after the gulf oil spill in 2011.
Want a little more foundational work?
If you have gotten this far, you have done more than most people to solve conflicts effectively. But let's say you call me. I would also ask about.
1. The emotional intensity of your fight. People typically experience conflicts as personal attacks. But, few reach the level of a “ I want to bomb your house ” fight or workplace violence. Most fall somewhere between “ouch, that pisses me off” and a middle ground.
Another truism: the longer a situation sits unaddressed, the greater the probability the fight will escalate into something nasty. You don't have to go there. Early, shrewd action like listening, reflection, and consulting someone like a conflict coach promotes quicker and more effective action. Waiting years (as is too often true with family, personnel or church fights) sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy of mutually assured destruction.
2. Where is your conflict within a normal conflict cycle?
- all conflicts move through cycles, starting with that nagging sensation I described earlier.
- you then name what happened and who offended you. While this might sound like fingering someone, this step is normal and healthy. You can't solve a situation without blaming and naming.
- after blaming and naming, most people “try out” their feelings and understandings of “the facts” with confidents (this might be when you call me). This is called “triangulation.”
Triangulation pulls a third person into a fight, if only as a silent partner. Like listening, triangulation is low risk and potentially helpful if:
(a) your intent is to talk about strategies and rehearse how you want to say things. and
(b) your confidant maintains confidentiality. Gossip or grapevines really undercut your ability to solve conflicts. The following graphic puts triangulation in context.
- confrontation comes next. Please note I don't consider “confrontation” to be a four letter word. Indeed, Doc Peg's reason for being is to help you direct your confrontations so they fulfill your best options.
- once a conflict solves (and it will even if you do nothing), the emotional intensity cools. You tuck away what you have learned, and go on with what you are doing. But in on-going relationships, the same conflict will morph and reemerge. I prefer to talk about (re)solutions not resolution. Conflicts evolve along with their solutions.
3. how do you react to conflict most of the time? Do you walk away, fight to the bitter end, roll over and change quickly, negotiate, collaborate? Your preferred conflict style combines childhood lessons with lessons learned as a result of your gender, age, culture, and recent experiences.
Adults are not locked into childhood lessons. But, learning new ways of solving conflict means unlearning some of what you already know while acquiring new knowledge and skills. That takes time, concentration, and practice. The payoff is life changing. That is why I love to train and mentor people, and why this site exists.
Change is possible. A coaching client remarked: “I am in a totally different place. The world is different.” Nice.
Peggy maintains a private practice in Athens, GA, serving north Georgia, while also traveling across North America and internationally to help clients, conduct training and for speaking engagements. North American and international coaching clients have access by phone or Skype. Peggy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone (706.207.1490), or use the “contact” form to make an appointment for an initial chat. Half hour initial inquiries are free (a $75 value). Thanks for coming to “ Conflict Solved: Doc Peg is IN.” Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN for daily reflections and hip-pocket tips.