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ConflictMastery Quest(ions) Blog

The CINERGY® Conflict Management Coaching Blog –ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) – is for anyone who finds self-reflective questions helpful for examining and strengthening your conflict intelligence. It is also for coaches, mediators, HR professionals, ombudsmen, leaders, lawyers, psychologists, counsellors and others who also use self-reflective questions as tools for helping your clients in these ways.

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Listening Through

Two wonderful friends and colleagues of mine, Kate Sharpe and Jeanie Nishimura, wrote a terrific book last year entitled When Mentoring Meets Coaching: Shifting the Stance in Education (2016, Pearson Canada Inc., Toronto, Canada). The authors provide a great resource in this text that supports readers to move from theory to practice and by enhancing mentoring with coaching skills.

One of the skills Kate and Jeanie talk about is listening, which is typically discussed whenever we outline the competencies of many practitioners – coaches, mentors, consultants, mediators and so on. However, I am particularly fond of how these authors talk about the skill of listening in the expression they use – “listening through”.

The importance of listening at any time and certainly, when in conflict, cannot be overstated. Before conflict erupts, for instance, when it is evident to us that the other person is becoming provoked, it is the optimum time to step back and ask, “What’s happening for you?” and listen thoroughly to the crux of their irritation before responding. That is, it is not a time to think of what to say in reaction. Rather, it is a time to hear the other person through.

Similarly, when we begin to feel irritated it is an optimum time to hear ourselves through – internally or with a trusted friend or coach. Asking ourselves the same question, “What is happening for me?” is a simple query also aimed at getting underneath the matter from our perspective. This is just one of many questions to facilitate listening and the following list of Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) are additional ones to ask when you bring to mind a conflict that you sense has the potential for escalating.

  • Considering a sense you have that a conflict is brewing for the other person about something going on between you, what seems to be irritating her or him as far as you know or can tell?
  • If the other person shared her or his irritation with you (as you identified it), what is your reaction just thinking about it?
  • How might that reaction you are experiencing (stated above) get in the way of being able to listen attentively to her or him?
  • If you listened through what the person has to say, what are the possible things you might learn about what is important to her or him? What does that say about what she or he might need from you?
  • If your responses to the previous two questions open up some new reflections, what are they?
  • How might the above reflections help the two of you move forward?
  • If applicable, what is irritating you that the other person is saying or doing?
  • What does your answer to the above question say about what you need from her or him?
  • As you listen through where you are coming from, too, what do you want the other person to know (that she or he might not) that is important to you?
  • What do you think you could ask the other person to feel fully heard? How might you let her or him know you are listening?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Changing Your Direction in Conflict

Another favourite quote of mine is by Lao Tzu:

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Though this applies to so many things in life, when it comes to conflict I find it particularly pertinent to the trajectory we get on when we are in a dispute.

More specifically, we sometimes forget we are at choice when we are in conflict. That is, we can choose to calm ourselves, use words, tones and attitudes that are conciliatory, take a time out and reflect before speaking, regulate our emotions, and even walk away when it is the best course of action for the situation.

For this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog, consider a dispute you are currently involved in when answering this list of questions:

  • What is the situation about?
  • What is provoking for you? What makes that especially irritating?
  • What are the feelings you are experiencing about this situation (besides, or rather than, the words used above, i.e. provoking and irritating)?
  • How would you describe the escalation between you and the other person?
  • How might you be contributing to the escalation of things?
  • What direction would you say things are going? What direction do you prefer that things go between you?
  • What direction do you think the other person wants things to go?
  • What are all the choices you have about ways to change the current direction to one that is preferable?
  • What do you need to feel about yourself to change the direction? What do you need to feel about the other person to achieve the change in direction?
  • What else do you need to do, think, feel, etc. to effect the change in direction
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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The Little Things in Conflict

Sherlock Holmes said:

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” (Case of Identity)

When it comes to interpersonal conflict it is often the case that the little things build up and ultimately grow into a dispute. But, the dispute does not always reveal what the source is. That is, when a dispute erupts it is frequently because of the accumulation of historical insults, hurts and blaming. This is as opposed to the thing said or done in the moment that appears to have resulted in the dispute and that thing may seem little at the time.

Typically, when the little things start to irritate us we react in various ways. For instance, we might make light of it, make excuses for the other person or our reaction, or not really feel sufficiently provoked to say anything. Then, at some point, the repetition of one or more of these irritants begins to have an impact on us. We might mention them to the other person at some point – or, we might not.

In any case, whatever the little things are, if the words, attitude, behaviours, etc. continue to occur, our tolerance lessens and our irritation grows. Interpersonal tension increases and the dispute takes on a different form than it might had we addressed things as they arose. Sometimes, the little things get lost, though they are pivotal to the conflict dynamic that unfolds.

For this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog, I invite you to consider a dispute that occurred in your life when the little things accumulated.

  • What is the dispute about that ultimately evolved?
  • What little thing (or things) first started you becoming provoked and is likely at the root of the dispute that ultimately erupted?
  • What is most important to you about each of those little things (or the one little thing) – just referred to – that you find particularly irritating?
  • What was the impact of the provoking thing or things you referred to when they started to irritate you? How about when they continued?
  • How long did you (or have you) put up with the little thing(s) before saying something, if you have?
  • What did you say when the little thing(s) ultimately got to you, if you have?
  • What didn’t you say that you wished you had when you began to get irritated?
  • What do you suppose stopped you from addressing the little things earlier?
  • What are the upsides of letting little things build up? What are the downsides?
  • Considering the conflict you had in mind here and the questions you answered, what is your learning?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Eat My Words

As you have likely realized, I am intrigued by a number of interesting metaphors that relate to conflict. Last week was about “biting our tongues” and this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is about “eating our words”!

One explanation of this expression is “To regret or retract what one has said”. This phrase often arises after a conflict when we are aware we have said something that contributed adversely to the conversation. Typically, we want to take back what we said, knowing we have already caused hurt and unnecessarily escalated the dispute.

The image of “eating our words” is a strange one when you think about it – letters being consumed and swallowed! It is not likely that we digest them well!!

I suggest that you consider a dispute you were in in which you wish you could have “eaten your words” – taking back what was said – when answering the following questions:

  • What was the situation about?
  • What did you say that you wish you hadn’t?
  • What specific words would you like to take back?
  • What precluded you from withholding what you said?
  • What else might have precluded you from finding other ways to express your words?
  • What was the impact on the other person of the words you used?
  • What was the impact on you of using those words?
  • What would make it especially hard for you to digest the words you wish you hadn’t said (if you were to eat your words)?
  • What words might you have used to express yourself instead of the ones you would now eat?
  • How might you stop yourself in a future dispute from being in a position where you could eat your words afterwards?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Bite My Tongue

One reference to the expression “bite my tongue” is “To forcibly prevent oneself from speaking, especially in order to avoid saying something inappropriate or likely to cause a dispute”.

In conflict situations this idiom comes up when there is something we feel compelled to say but catch ourselves from doing so. This might be because we instinctively know it would result in an escalation of matters, be hurtful, stir up more emotion than is necessary and so on.

The imagery is interesting in that if you’ve ever bitten your tongue (haven’t we all?) it HURTS!! It would appear then – considering the idiom’s meaning – that to stop ourselves from hurting someone’s feelings we hurt ourselves physically.

Though it’s not usually the case that we literally bite our tongues and are in pain as a consequence, it is the case that not saying what we want to can cause us inner pain. That is, we may feel our experience of the conflict is not being expressed; we might resent we are being careful about the other person but our emotions are not being reciprocated; we might regret we do not have other skills and tools to effectively make our point without causing damage; and so on.

In this week’s Conflict Mastery Ques(ions) blog consider a time when you “bit your tongue” as you respond to this set of questions.

  • What was the situation?
  • What did you want to say that you didn’t?
  • What specifically stopped you?
  • What did you fear most (if you didn’t already answer that in the previous question)?
  • What was the outcome of this situation?
  • What pain do you think you might have caused if you said what was on your mind?
  • What inner pain did it cause you because you bit your tongue?
  • What did the other person not hear, find out, understand, etc. because you bit your tongue so that she or he didn’t know what was on your mind?
  • If you were to express what you wanted to – in a way that would be more effective than you initially thought – how might you have done so?
  • What is the downside of biting your tongue? What is the upside?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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