art work by John Ceprano
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Chip on Your Shoulder

It’s a strange expression – chip on your shoulder – and it has a rich history. According to Wikipedia it dates back to the Royal Navy Dockyards and a requirement for shipwrights to carry timber chips under their arms rather than on their shoulders because they could carry more that way. The story goes that one shipwright (John Miller) refused and the Master Shipwright ordered him to lower the chips and tried to physically force him to do so. Miller and others pushed the Master and First Assistant out of the gateway while keeping the chips on their shoulders. The expression eventually came to mean an attitude that denotes a challenge when disagreeing on a matter and daring ‘the other person’ to refute them.

In my experience, saying “that person has a chip on his shoulder” is one of those statements we say to or about someone who appears to be defensive, angry, bitter, resentful, bearing a grudge, a victim, and so on. That is, we may become aware of such emotions in a conversation when people verbally express these sorts of sentiments or by their demeanour, such as tone of voice or body and facial language. Seeing and communicating with someone whom we determine has a chip on their shoulder can be challenging. After all, it can be off-putting and difficult to know how to connect and may even precipitate and exacerbate conflict.

For this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog, please consider a situation when you find or found yourself reacting to the other person who, in your perception, has a chip on his or her shoulder.

  • Generally, what is the impact on you when you are around people who appear to have a chip on their shoulder?
  • In the particular situation you have in mind, how do you describe the chip that the other person seems or seemed to have on his or her shoulder?
  • How does or did the chip effect you?
  • What is it about a chip that seems to provoke you and even lead to conflict for you?
  • What do you suppose a chip is made of to have that sort of impact?
  • What don’t you know about the person who carries a chip on his or her shoulder that you would like to?
  • How do you prefer to feel about people with a chip on their shoulder?
  • How may you respond to people who carry chips on their shoulders in a way that would reflect conflict mastery?
  • For a minute, picture yourself as someone who carries a chip on your shoulder. What may you need from others at this time?
  • What do you have to learn from the person who has a chip on his or her shoulder?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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