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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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Do You Freeze When in Conflict?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

What does freezing mean in the context of conflict? Freezing is one reaction to being provoked during a conflict—fighting and fleeing are two other common responses. It has been suggested that freezing is different from “being stuck”. This suggestion is based on the notion that being stuck is a more transient state of being during conflict, whereas freezing, as it is described here, is more like being unable to engage at all when provoked. That is, freezing is immobilizing.

Freezing may be a reaction to conflict that reflects helplessness and powerlessness to know what to say or do. It may be a fear response, a shutdown of our usual skills and ability to process information and emotions, or both. It may be a matter of becoming cold internally or toward the other person (or both) as a way to stave off tension and the depth of our emotions.

These and other ways in which freezing affects us have a huge impact on the course our interpersonal conflicts take and the outcomes. In an effort to thaw out a freeze response, it helps to deconstruct what is happening at the times when we freeze or the other person does so. The following questions facilitate such a process.

Try to imagine a conflict when you froze. How would you describe what freezing was like?

What specifically felt “frozen” for you?

What impact did your freezing have on the other person? How did freezing affect the specific conflict interaction?

With what would you want to replace freezing in the context of this conflict? What would be different about the interaction if that occurred?

If you do not want to thaw out, why is that so?

How do you describe what you have observed when the other person in a conflict with you freezes? What is the impact on you at these times?

How do you suppose you might help the other person in a conflict interaction to thaw out, if you want or wanted to? What difference might that make?

Generally, what positive outcomes come from freezing? What not so positive ones?

Generally, when you have reacted to being provoked in other conflict interactions—without freezing—what was different in that situation or those situations? What did you do differently? What different outcomes resulted?

What learning might you apply from your previous experiences (your answer to the question above) in the future? What else do you think it would take for you to thaw out, if you wanted to, when you freeze in response to a conflict?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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Do You Criticize?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

Criticism takes different forms and tends to exacerbate conflict and derail conversations, preventing them from evolving in a productive manner. Examples may be finding fault when others’ viewpoints do not suit us or our opinions. Name-calling, put-downs, “dirt-throwing,” and otherwise blaming people for their ideas, actions, personality, and so on, are also forms of criticism. Similarly, criticizing may be demonstrated by micromanaging, and by continually correcting things others say or do. Having a dismissive attitude, and being sarcastic, belittling, controlling, patronizing, and condescending, may all be experienced as criticism, too. Sometimes we do not criticize verbally, but our facial and body language speak for us.

For some of us, criticizing is a strategy for maintaining control or managing hurt, anger, and other emotions. We may criticize when we experience push-back of our perspectives. We may choose criticism to be in control, to make our point, to “win” a disagreement, or to undermine the other person and her or his opinions, needs, beliefs, and interests. Criticizers themselves may lack self-esteem and be self-critical, and criticizing others makes them feel more powerful. Or, we may genuinely dispute another person’s perspective, or how she or he is acting, and choose criticism instead of more conflict-masterful approaches.

By criticizing—however we do it—we may be seen as demonstrating intolerance, judgmentalism, lack of flexibility, and a need to be right. Criticizers also seem to have trouble separating the person from the real crux of the situation, adding to the negative dynamic. This means our differences become increasingly personal. It often seems, when this happens, that criticism breeds criticism. Inevitably, we then both spiral downward in our interaction.

If you tend to criticize during a conflict or have done so in a specific situation and if someone has criticized you in a conflict, this is an opportunity to explore your reaction further.

When you consider the last time you criticized someone during a conflict, what was the conflict? About what, specifically, were you being critical?

What bothered you most about the other person’s actions, words, and so on that resulted in your criticism? What were you experiencing at the time (feeling, thinking) about the other person?

What, specifically, did you say by way of criticizing? How did the other person respond?

If the other person became defensive in response to your criticism, what did you hear her or him defend?

What were you aiming to accomplish with your criticism? How did you succeed in doing so? What did you not achieve that you had hoped to?

What did you need or want the other person to say or do in that situation instead that you would not have criticized? How would you have interacted differently with her or him in that case?

If you were to frame your criticism as a request, how would that sound?

When you consider a situation in which someone criticized you during a conflict, what was that like for you? (If this happened in the same situation just discussed, it may be helpful to use that example here.) What do you suppose the other person needed or wanted from you at the time that you were not delivering?

What request might the other person have made of you pertaining to the substance of the criticism that you would have been less likely to react negatively to? How might you have responded differently in this case?

Looking back now on your answers to the above questions, what two new things have you learned, or been reminded of, about the use of criticism?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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What is Your Achilles?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You” .

The derivation of the expression “Achilles heel” dates back to an ancient legend. The story goes that Achilles’ mother, Thetis, dipped him into the river Styx to make him invulnerable. One of his heels was not covered by the water, though, and he was later killed by an arrow wound to the heel that was exposed. The expression “Achilles heel” is still used today as a metaphor for vulnerability.

Our vulnerabilities often become exposed when we are in conflict. Or, they may lead to the initial discord. For example, if another person knows our area of vulnerability and wants to hurt us, she or he may purposely say or do something to wound our Achilles heel. Sometimes, of course, there is no intent, but our Achilles heel may be struck inadvertently, too. In any case, taking time to reflect on what is happening in the interrelational dynamic, and why, helps in the effort to build conflict intelligence.

Here is a series of questions to help you consider your Achilles heel and the area of vulnerability that results in conflict for you. The questions are designed also to help you gain a better understanding about the exposure you experience at these times, and what positive things your sensitive spots may represent. (If you have more than one area you consider your Achilles heel, it is suggested that you answer the questions by considering one area at a time.)

What would you say is your Achilles heel—an area of vulnerability that is likely to result in conflict when touched?

What makes this your Achilles heel?

What, specifically, feels wounded when someone touches your Achilles heel? How does it feel?

In what ways do you expose your Achilles heel, if you are aware of doing so? How do you appear or act when it feels wounded?

If you try to hide your vulnerable point, how do you do this?

What do you not know about your Achilles heel?

What helps diminish the impact on you when you sense someone coming close to touching your Achilles heel? How else may you respond when someone touches your Achilles heel that shows you are well able to manage the provocation?

How might you strengthen your Achilles heel so that you feel less vulnerable? How will you appear differently if you strengthen your Achilles heel?

What about your Achilles heel actually represents one or more of your strengths? How will you appear differently if you accept that your vulnerability is a strength?

How may the knowledge that your Achilles heel represents one or more of your strengths (your answers to the previous questions) help you in your quest for conflict mastery?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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Indirectness Can Lead to Conflict

It is often the case that those of us who prefer to avoid conflict are indirect in our communications. This can itself lead to conflict – inner and outer – and a dynamic that doesn’t serve us well. For instance, when we are perceived as avoiders and not fully expressing our needs, there is the chance others could take advantage of us to get what they want. As a consequence, we are likely to be frustrated and angry at ourselves as well as them.

Then, there is the possibility that others who see us as being indirect may also avoid the situation and issues. Also, contrary to how we want to be perceived, some people might view us as weak – without the courage of our convictions and even dishonest and inauthentic. Inner conflict (like external conflict) commonly occurs in these scenarios.

These and other such dynamics that arise due to being indirect are worth considering when answering the following Conflict Mastery Quest(ions), if you tend to be indirect or irritated by others who are:

If you were indirect in a conflict with another person, how were you so?

What reasons were you being indirect in that situation?

How are the reasons above the same or different from other times you’ve been indirect, i.e. person, subject matter, fears, etc.?

If you were to have been direct in the above situation what would you have said or done?

What good result might have occurred if you were direct?

In what ways did being indirect result in inner and/or outer conflict for you?

When someone else is indirect with you, how does that contribute to the interpersonal conflict?

When you consider a time someone was indirect with you, what do you think resulted in this person being indirect?

How did her or his indirectness benefit you? The relationship? How did it not benefit you? The relationship?

If you wanted to be more direct in a conflict situation what might help facilitate that? If you wanted the other person in a conflict to be more direct with you how might you facilitate that?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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Choosing Arguments

This week’s topic came to me when someone reminded me of the great quote “You do not need to attend every argument you are invited to” (unknown). Though I so agree with this, it seems we don’t always think we are at choice when statements, attitudes and deeds offend us and we react strongly to them. We likely don’t think either that some may not necessitate a response at all.

That is, in reality we often react to things that provoke us before we consider whether our reaction is justified, whether our perceptions and assumptions are askew, or whether we need or even want to engage in a conversation in the moment, or at all. Even if we perceive someone is purposely offending us, we are at choice about how and what we perceive, and about whether to respond and how, if we do.

For this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog, consider a time you reacted to something someone said or did and you realized, afterwards, that it was unnecessary and you could have chosen not to react:

What did the other person say or do to which you reacted?

What compelled you to react, do you think?

What did you sense was being threatened, undermined or challenged for you at the time – by what the person said or did – or how she or he acted (attitudinally) toward you?

If you became defensive, what were you defending?

What do you think the other person intended?

What made your reaction unnecessary, now that you consider it?

What choices did you have at the time that might have been more productive responses?

What precluded those responses instead, do you think?

What sorts of arguments are necessary for you to engage in, as you consider this topic? Which sorts of arguments are not necessary to engage in?

How might you make a different choice in the future when provoked but you know it’s an unnecessary conflict?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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