I’ve written the subject line of this Life Adventure Notes with one word – conflict. And I’m calling it that even though I know it’s not really the right word for this subject matter. It’s just that “conflict” is the popular term for not being on the same page as someone else.
I would love to start this month by pointing out that not being on the same page does not have to mean conflict. Because you and I are different, it does not mean there has to be actual conflict; there are many ways to allow each other to remain different and still connect. So as you read through this month’s feature article, keep in mind the idea that we are really talking about is resolving (or allowing!) differences, not eliminating conflict.
It would also make me happy to get rid of the myth that if we disagree, someone’s feelings will inevitably get hurt. The factor that hurts people’s feelings is not that we are different and it is not that we tried to talk about the differences. The factor that hurts people is whether or not we are skillful and appropriate in expressing our feelings about the difference.
So I give you this month’s Life Adventure Notes with a sincere request from me. Don’t just read this information as something interesting with no application in your life. Please take the information here and look deeply at your own behavior. Decide how you want to behave with people who think differently than you do. Then get out there and practice! If your goal is to get along with others then you owe it to yourself to be skillful in how you address them regardless of the style you chose.
Let me know how it goes. I would love to hear from you on how you are handling the “conflict” in your life once you decide to become more skillful.
COOPERATION AND COMMUNITY
The holidays are upon us. And while we all hope for a Norman Rockwell happy-family-around-the-turkey-picture-perfect-holiday, for many this is not possible because of family conflict. Nowadays, there are many kinds of families: those who are born to each other, those who are committed to each other, and those who are brought together by marriage. No one type has a monopoly on peaceful relationships. What they all have in common is that each family member has developed a pattern of behavior that determines family interactions.
Our typical patterns of behavior have been described by Thomas Killman in the five conflict styles: Competing, Avoiding, Compromising, Accommodating, and Collaborating. There are benefits as well as drawbacks to each of these styles, as discussed below.
As you read about the styles, decide which one(s) you identify with. Realize that you may use a different style depending on whether you are at home, at work or school, in public, etc. You also may use different styles depending on the relationship that you have with a specific person.
The Competing (or Forcing) style often uses language that communicates “we are doing it my way.” This is a win/lose type of style: I win/you lose.
The Competing style is beneficial:
when quick, decisive action is vital (as in emergencies)
on important issues when unpopular courses of action need implementing (such as cost cutting, enforcing rules, discipline)
to protect yourself against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior.
Its benefits include speed, decisiveness, and preservation of important values.
When this style is over-used, the costs can include:
loss of cooperation,
anger and depression,
decreased respect from others,
and possible destruction of relationships.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Avoiding conflict style, and it is just that: “I don’t want to discuss it” or “Let’s not make a big deal out of this”. In general, Avoiding represents a lose/lose situation where no one wins in the long-term.
There are instances when Avoiding conflict can be beneficial:
when an issue is trivial
when other more important issues are pressing
when you perceive no chance to satisfy your concerns (e.g., when you have little power in the situation or the issue actually “belongs” to someone else)
when the potential damage of confronting a conflict outweighs the benefits of the resolution
when gathering more information outweighs the advantages of an immediate decision
– when others can resolve the conflict more effectively
when the issue seems symptomatic of another more basic issue
when it’s most important to let people cool down, to reduce tensions to a productive level and to regain perspective and composure.
Avoiding conflict can keep things the same, keep out of minor problems, maintain stability or influence others without doing anything.
However, you know what some of the drawbacks of Avoiding behavior can be:
explosions of pent-up anger,
lingering negative feelings,
slow death of relationships,
and a loss of accountability.
The Accommodating conflict style sounds like it would always be a positive position. After all, aren’t you told to be accommodating to and considerate of others? But when you continually offer, “Ok, whatever you say”, it adds up to a lose/win situation, where you lose and the other person wins.
The advantages of Accommodating in conflict occur:
when you realize that you are wrong
to allow a better position to be heard
to learn from others
to show that you are reasonable
when the issue is much more important to the other person than to yourself
to satisfy the needs of others
as a goodwill gesture to help maintain a cooperative relationship
to build “social credits” for later issues which are important to you
when continued competition would only damage your cause
when preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are especially important
to aid in the managerial development of subordinates by allowing them to experiment and learn from their own mistakes.
Benefits of the Accommodating style include freedom from hassles in the short term, self-discipline, appreciation of others, and flexibility.
The disadvantages of the Accomodating style include:
frustration with others,
or denial of the benefits that come from healthy confrontation.
The Compromising conflict style often uses language such as “I’ll meet you half way on this”. This is a win some/lose some style.
The Compromising style is beneficial when:
goals are moderately important, but not worth the effort or potential
disruption of more assertive modes
when the opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals, as in labor-management bargaining
to achieve temporary settlements to complex issues
to arrive at expedient solutions under time pressure
– as a backup mode when collaboration or competition fails to be successful.
Meeting in the middle also offers a way out of a stalemate; is understood by most people; is relatively fast; and builds an atmosphere of calm and reason.
Drawbacks of the Compromising style can include:
ignoring the causes of the disagreement
no understanding of the root of the conflict for future reference
creating agreements where no one is truly satisfied
selling out on values that are important to you
The fifth style of conflict is Collaborating. Collaborating represents a win/win situation where everyone benefits. It is revealed in language such as “I’d like to do x, what do you want to do?”
Benefits occur as you work to find an integrated solution:
when both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised
when your objective is to learn (e.g., testing your own assumptions, understanding the views of others)
to merge insights from people with different perspectives on a problem
to gain commitment by incorporating other’s concerns into a shared decision
to work through hard feelings which have been interfering with an
Additional pluses for the Collaborating style include developing a trusting and balanced relationship; high cooperation; creativity and growth.
Yet even with this win/win style there are costs. Disadvantages to the Collaborating style include:
requires more time than any of the other styles in order to learn and include what is important to everyone involved.
can cause distraction from more important tasks
can cause “analysis paralysis”.
Consider your own typical patterns of responding to conflict. Then take a few minutes to think about how your typical responses make you feel. If you don’t feel peaceful and resolved, then perhaps you might benefit from another approach to your conflict.
One way to be certain you will move to resolution of conflict is to be aware of what your intention is as you enter a situation where conflict exists. There are two choices:
1. responding with the intent to protect your position
2. responding with the intent to understand or learn more about the other person’s view(s) and feelings.
The first is a closed, defensive position while the latter is an open, non-defensive way to seek understanding.
Seeking to protect your position results in phrases such as “who do you think you are” or “you have no right…” and is like throwing gasoline on an open flame. Boom! The conflict is in full force.
Seeking to understand about the other person’s thoughts or opinions helps in these ways:
insures that problem solving focuses on the real issue(s) at hand
allows the focus to be on issues not people
decreases the other person’s feelings of being attacked
demonstrates respect of the other person
– encourages the other to be respectful as well.
Don’t be confused: seeking to understand is not the same as agreement, but is a respectful method of handling differences. And modeling understanding and respect for others is a powerful action.
Each choice you make causes a ripple effect in your life. When things happen to you, it is the reaction you choose that can create the difference between the sorrows of your past and the joy in your future.
I wish you peaceful resolutions and joyous holidays.
What styles do you recognize you use most often?
Do you favor different styles in various settings?
How do those you are in relationship with tend to use the conflict styles?
What situations in your life do you need to approach with more intent to understand?
Do You Want to Leave?~from the Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
Walls are worn away a grain at a time, and hearts are opened a feeling at a time.
Susan and I were sitting in an ice cream parlor when the two couples next to us began to get loud. They were just having a good time, but I was feeling a bit inward and intruded on. I felt the need to go. I leaned over to Susan and asked if she wanted to leave. She in her contentment, said, “No. I’m happy here.” Then seeing consternation on my face, she asked, “Do you want to go?”
In that simple moment in a booth in an ice cream parlor, I realized that for much of my forty-nine years, I have tried to take care of my needs by indirectly projecting them on those around me and then acting as if I am taking care of the other person. As the ice cream was melting, I understood myself. I laughed, shook my head, felt embarrassed, then sighed deeply, and importantly voiced the obvious, “Yes, I’d like to leave.”
This indirect way of trying to get what I need by planting my feelings as needs to be attended to in those around me has been a way to hide my vulnerability, while still managing to appear as a kind and other-centered person. I realize I am not alone in this malady. It is often so subtle and so close to our healthy way of relating to others that we seldom realize the manipulation and deceit involved.
Of course, this indirectness lives in us because somewhere along the way, we become convinced, often with good harsh reason, that to voice directly what we need is asking to be hurt. Yet I know of no other way to reverse this hiding of who we are than to catch ourselves humbly in each instance and to rise out of our private cave, admitting the indirectness and saying what we feel and what we need as soon as possible.
Still, the energy wasted in trying to quietly get others to behave in ways that will satisfy our needs remains a major source of anxiety and alienation. Rather than prevent us from being hurt, indirectness and dishonesty only heighten our isolation from what it means to be alive.
Underneath it all is the fundamental truth that as trees have leaves that are nicked and eaten, human beings have feelings that are just as worn by the act of living. We have a right to these. They are evidence of our human seasons.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.