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A Recipe for Conflict

This past weekend I was at a sports tournament with my son. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst tournaments I’ve been to as a parent. Not because of the players or refs, wining or loosing, there was no drunken brawl between parents or bench clearing fight, or parents yelling and swearing at officials (I appreciate your imagination though ;). It was the way the entire tournament was approached by the organizing committee.

In an effort to uphold and strictly enforce the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy of harassment toward anyone, the host tournament committee came out of the gates guns blazing. By holding a strong offensive stance, they unwittingly attracted a similar defense.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

Within minutes of the game beginning, the parents started cheering and commenting in a non-offensive and normal way, the organizers tried to shut things down. There was no swearing, although one parent could have been given a warning to take it down a notch, so their aggressive approach seemed very unnecessary and quickly met resistance.

I understand the need for ‘Zero Tolerance’ anything and the concept of nipping things in the bud so there is no bad seeds to spread and grow over time and have a much larger issue to deal with. Unfortunately human relationships are more complex and trying to aggressively suppress or control large groups, even with military force and power, doesn’t often go well.

If only there had been discussion rather than dictatorship, an invitation to change, and respect instead of reaction.

Conflict almost always occurs when there is a perceived need for a distinct right, the need for suppression, and wrong party (which is best left to the legal system, not relationship systems). As long as this need remains, and remains unsatisfied, there will be conflict. That’s why systems, coaches and mediators work to provide other perspectives and options beyond who is right and who is wrong, creating outcomes that are more satisfactory and beneficial for everyone.

Most people only know how to react which only inflames the situation. Reaction is a millisecond habit by a primal instinct to pounce when we are triggered. Responding is done by thinking and requires a full second longer for the advanced and intellectual part of our brains to kick in and run the show.

Out beyond what is right and what is wrong, there’s a field. That’s where you’ll find me. – Rumi

two boys argue

Where do you rate yourself on your comfort level with conflict on the scale below?

1) I eat conflict for lunch, bring it!

2) It’s like an old pair of shoes; it’s comfortable but doesn’t look good

3) I’d rather not. Can’t we just figure it out over a drink?

4) How about you talk and I’ll just listen until I find the escape hatch?

5) I think I just peed while running away screaming like my hair is on fire!

No matter what you answered, I think there’s something we can all learn to be part of more constructive conflict that doesn’t leave a string of bodies, or relationships, in in our wake. Here are a few tips to use next find yourself in a conflict situation.

  1. Get to the other person’s level quickly. Match their physical position ie. Sitting, standing, leaning, etc. with an open body posture (no crossed arms or legs) and calm tone of voice. Body language alone can make a significant difference in the outcome. Standing over a sitting person with your arms crossed or wagging your finger in their face, talking loudly or yelling is NOT good.
  2. Create a 90 degree angle between you. Imagine you are both looking at something 5 feet in front of you so you both need to be facing a similar direction. This creates a sense of physiological alignment. Facing another person directly, creates a ‘you against them’ stance, and can be confrontational and make things worse.
  3. Find a common thread to connect with. What is one thing that is important to both parties, outside of the issue, you can leverage to stay on track in a resolution? For divorcing parents that might be the welfare of the kids, and for business partners in struggle it might be their professional reputations. Without a common interest to connect, you are truly widening the conflict gap.
  4. Create in invitation for things to be different. People love to help. If you own your feelings/struggle and ask for help from another person to feel differently and create a new perspective, you’d be amazed at how willing they become to help you find a solution. “I’m feeling really frustrated and angry about the way the rules are being enforced and I need your help to understand it”.
  • Creating understanding and empathy. Ask questions about what specifically is important to them and try to put yourself in their shoes. Empathy and agreement ARE NOT THE SAME!! Are you willing to at least see how you might feel if you were them? By using lots of active listening phrases like, “I get that, I can see how important that is to you, I might feel that way too, etc” the conflict is defused so a more constructive conversation can happen. Disagreeing openly is going back to right and wrong and creates more conflict. 
  • Ask specifically for what you/ they want. Almost all conflict is about something not going the way you wanted. Unfortunately we’re much better about expressing what went wrong than we are at asking for what we do want. You may not be able to create exactly what they want, but it’s at least a negotiation toward a middle ground or new agreement in the future. The point of asking is to create conversation and uncover an agreeable answer. Do not shut down the first few responses or you’ll be back to square one.

Conflict resolution is a critical skill for moving forward with greater ease in all areas of your life. I’m going to be diving into this at my upcoming Exponentially You Human Fundamentals Program in the fall. I believe it’s essential to try on these tools in a safe environment and learn which ones work best for you. Plus, you get an experience of applying them to real life situations so your confidence around conflict goes up.

Leave me a comment below about how you currently feel about conflict. Do you have some great tips that work for you to navigate rough waters? I’d love to hear from you!

Holding possibility

One Response

  1. I think I’m a number 3…let’s just talk it over while getting a drink!
    I’ve always been told that I’m approachable, so conflict isn’t usually directed towards me, however, I do seem to be caught up it as a person trying to help defuse situations. The more I’m learning the more understanding I’ve got to why certain conflicts arise. Where I see it conflict is based on fear and shame. I understand that now more than ever because I learned that from you, and some great books, and online resources I have the privilege of using. I also get it because I first handily felt shame and fear. Resolving conflicts needs an objective point of view, listening skills, empathy, and compassion.

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