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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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Values Conflict

For this week’s blog I am bringing back one that was popular a couple of years ago. So, this one is from the archives (originally posted November 29, 2016):

It is common to attribute the term ‘values conflict’ as the reason for dissension between us and another person and we may say such conflicts are not resolvable. That’s true for some disputes, but I don’t believe all, and this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is about the sorts of differences that may seem irreconcilable.

In some research I did over 15 years ago, study group members identified that when they are provoked by something another person says or does they perceive a value, need or aspect of their identity is being undermined or threatened. The participants didn’t use those words per se but it was evident by the language they used that they felt that one or more of these aspects of their being was being challenged, and they reacted accordingly. As part of the research and ultimately, the development of the CINERGY® conflict management coaching model, the study group members also explored what aspects of the other person’s being they themselves might be challenging. Checking out the possible attributions – and assumptions being made – helped them (and continues to help my coaching clients) gain increased understanding of the conflict dynamic between the disputants.

The above research and its results indicated that having different values does not mean we cannot reconcile our differences. That is, if we perceive the other person is undermining our value of fairness, it doesn’t mean that our ideas of fairness have to be the same or of the same degree to be able to resolve our differences. Similarly, it doesn’t mean the other person is necessarily unfair or intends to be, but that we hold different perspectives on fairness.

Though having disparate values may not be reconcilable, it helps to explore what our respective beliefs are in relation to the issues in dispute and discuss how and in what way(s) they feel undermined. Doing so can result in an understanding that honours our differences – rather than operating on the basis that different values (apparently) necessarily make our conflicts irreconcilable.

If you are referring (or have referred) to a dispute you are having (or had) as a ‘values conflict’, consider the following questions:

  • What are you and the other person disputing about?
  • Which value (or values) of yours do you feel is (are) being challenged?
  • What specifically is the other person saying that leads you to your answer to the previous question?
  • Which value(s) of her or his do you see as disparate from yours?
  • How do you know that is the other person’s value or values (referring to your answer to the previous question)?
  • What value or values, if any, may the two of you share?
  • What do you not understand or accept about the other person’s value(s) as it (they) pertains to your dispute?
  • What might she or he not accept or understand about your value(s) in the dispute?
  • If it isn’t necessarily a ‘values conflict’, how else may you frame it?
  • What difference, if any, does that frame make (your answer to the above question)?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Know When to Hold ‘Em

For this week’s blog I am bringing back one that was popular a couple of years ago. So, this one is from the archives (originally posted July 19, 2016):

The story in the song The Gambler – most famously sung by American country music singer Kenny Rogers – is about two people on a train “bound for nowhere”. One of the people is a gambler who perceives the other person he meets is down on his luck (“out of aces”). The gambler offers up advice if the person will give him his last swallow of whiskey. (The Wikipedia description of this encounter refers to the male gender but presumably it need not be.)

After the gambler takes the drink he gives this advice:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

The gambler then mentions that the “secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep”.

According to Wikipedia, some believe the song is not simply useful advice and tips on gambling, but in fact a wider “metaphor” for life itself, with the “cards” which the gambler plays signifying the choices we make in our lives. However, there is no line in the song which proves this theory.

The Gambler is a catchy song and even as we “speak” I can’t help but hum the tune. And it seems to me the gambler’s advice is indeed a metaphor applicable to other of life’s circumstances, including conflict. That is, whether before, during or after conflict, we have choices about how to manage the situation. We can hold onto our positions; we can concede to the other; we can collaborate or compromise; we can walk away with our heads held high; we can walk away in anger; we can resolve things amicably; or we can let things fester. The list of our choices is endless, and the following questions are good ones to consider if you are wondering what to do about a specific dispute.

  • What is the dispute about?
  • What is your position that you are holding onto on how you want things resolved?
  • What makes that position particularly important to hold onto?
  • If you hold onto your position, what are the possible outcomes?
  • What other options for resolution might there be that may be acceptable to you?
  • How might those options – referred to in the previous question – work for the other person?
  • If you were to “fold ‘em” in this conflict, what does that mean to you?
  • In what ways may folding your position actually be a positive choice? How would you know when to “fold ‘em” to make it positive?
  • How is “folding ‘em” a negative choice?
  • What choices might work for both of you? If you don’t want a mutually acceptable choice how will you proceed?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Getting Defensive

For this week’s blog I am bringing back one that was popular a couple of years ago. So, this one is from the archives (originally posted May 24, 2016):

So often when we’re in conflict one or both (all) people involved find themselves becoming defensive. This reaction is demonstrated in various ways. We may react with sarcasm or blame; we may justify our own words, actions or attitude; we may dismiss the other person’s comments; we may walk away; or we may verbally attack her or him. These and other ways of reacting depend on the person, the situation or both. How we react also depends on our conflict competence, sensibilities, learned behaviours and other variables.

When we get defensive it is helpful to consider what we are defending at those times. Often it is because we perceive a value, need or aspect of our identity is being undermined or challenged. We feel hurt, offended, betrayed and other emotions. Also, at some level of consciousness we are questioning the other person’s motives and attributing ill will to her or his intent. It is a time our ability to reflect and problem solve is compromised.

If you became defensive in a recent dispute and/or saw the other person doing so in the same or a different conflict, you will have a chance to deconstruct the defensiveness with the following questions of this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog.

  • What was the dispute about?
  • What did the other person say or do that resulted in you becoming defensive?
  • Which of your values were you defending? What else do you think you were defending?
  • What did you need from the other person that she or he was not providing?
  • What aspect(s) of your identity did you perceive were being challenged?
  • How did you react when you became defensive? What would a non-defensive response have been?
  • If you observed a defensive reaction in the other person in this same dispute or a different one, what was that conflict about? To what did the other person react defensively about what you said or did?
  • How do you describe what her or his defensiveness looked like?
  • What value(s), need(s) or aspect(s) of her or his identity did she or he perceive was being undermined? What else might she or he have been defending?
  • What might you have said or done differently so that the other person would not have reacted defensively?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Blowing Your Top

For this week’s blog I am bringing back one that was popular a couple of years ago. So, this one is from the archives (originally posted May 3, 2016):

The idiom “to blow your top” has been defined in various ways, such as “to become enraged; lose one’s temper”. One other source says this about the expression:

“‘Blow your top’ is a colorful idiomatic expression that is used to indicate that an individual is extremely upset and is about to or has already lost his or her temper. The imagery connected with losing the temper focuses on the vision of the top of someone’s head actually coming off, due to the buildup of the internal pressure caused by the anger. Typically, the term is reserved for use when a particular event or subject inspires very deep negative feelings, making it more difficult to remain composed and logical in terms of how the situation is approached.

Unlike some other idioms that are used in present tense only, it is not unusual for “blow your top” to be also used about something that may happen in the very near future. For example, someone may attempt to calm someone down who is obviously about to lose his or her temper by encouraging them to step away before ‘you blow your top.’ In this use of the saying, the idea is to prevent what would likely be a very negative event from taking place by urging some temporary distance from the issue that is causing so much distress.”

This week’s blog explores the phrase “blowing your top” by inviting you to answer the reflective questions if you tend to “blow your top” or would use this idiom to describe someone you have observed in a conflict with you.

  • When you consider a situation in which it could be said you “blew your top”, what was happening to incite you?
  • How might you describe your reaction that might be described as “blowing your top”?
  • What did that feel like to you (your answer to the previous question)?
  • How did the other person react to you?
  • How would she or he describe you when you “blew your top”?
  • When your top blew off, what did you lose? What stayed on?
  • When you have been on the receiving end of someone blowing their top, what resulted in that, from what you know or observed? How did you experience the other person “blowing her or his top”?
  • What blew off? What stayed on?
  • What makes the imagery in the expression “blow your top” especially relevant to what happened for you? What makes it especially relevant to what happened to the other person in the situation you experienced or observed?
  • What has occurred to you about the idiom “blow your top” that you hadn’t considered before you answered these questions?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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Up Against a Wall

For this week’s blog I am bringing back one that was popular a couple of years ago. So, this one is from the archives (originally posted March 1, 2016):

Sometimes, when involved in an interpersonal conflict, we find ourselves “up against a wall”. This expression means we feel we have no choice about an issue, except to give in, or that we feel stuck about how to manage things. One definition (from Dictionary.com) of this metaphor is: “in a crucial or critical position, especially one in which defeat or failure seems imminent”.

Such situations are very challenging and this idiom paints a picture of something stronger and bigger than us getting in our way of proceeding.

If you have a conflict situation in which you are feeling “up against a wall”, consider the following questions for this week’s blog and how you might help diminish the wall’s power.

  • What is the dispute about?
  • What is the wall that you are experiencing?
  • What makes that wall especially challenging?
  • What might the wall reflect in a metaphorical sense (such as what does it represent, i.e. an emotion, wish, fear, expectation, value, etc.)?
  • With what may you be holding up the metaphorical wall – contributing to its existence?
  • How else may you be supporting the wall?
  • What do you think it would take for you to knock over the wall? What all would that entail?
  • What’s the worst case scenario you can imagine if you knocked over the wall?
  • What is the best case scenario if you knocked over the wall?
  • What learning here likely applies to other situations in which you perceive yourself to be “up against a wall”?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
Posted in Conflict Coaching, Conflict Management Coaching, Metaphors | Leave a comment