art work by John Ceprano
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“I Didn’t Mean to Ruffle Your Feathers”

By now you will know I like metaphors and idioms as ways of providing a creative context to consider conflicts and their impact. There is something fun and interesting about doing so. What else I find is that looking at conflict with a different lens also helps my coaching clients (and me when I am in conflict) to gain distance from the emotions and the event.

The topic today – about the metaphor to ruffle someone’s feathers – conjures up an image I smile about. I find I can easily visualize a big or even a little bird looking miffed at something. Her or his eyes are wide – looking perturbed. The bird’s feathers are not falling softly but rather they are all over the place. Clearly, things are amiss.

The apparent etymology of the expression “to ruffle feathers”, as may be expected, is based on the idea of a bird whose feathers are not smooth because of fear or excitement. The phrase has come to refer to being and looking irritated or annoyed (or by ruffling someone’s feathers we are doing something that irritates or annoys her or him). That common happenstance – annoying or irritating someone or someone annoying or irritating us – does not always lead to external conflict. In any case, whether it is an internal conflict or external dispute, we undoubtedly show our negative reactions through our facial expressions and body language. As a consequence, we may show up like a bird with ruffled feathers.

If you relate to the phrase discussed in today’s blog, see if the following questions resonate for you.

  • Thinking of a specific dispute in which you experienced the phenomenon of having ruffled feathers, what led to that experience?
  • What did it feel like to have ruffled feathers?
  • What do you suppose you looked like at that time that gave the appearance of your feathers being ruffled?
  • What do your feathers represent in that conflict scenario?
  • What do you do that helps to smooth your ruffling?
  • What have others said or done that seems to help you? What doesn’t help?
  • When the other person in a conflict situation gets ruffled feathers from something you said or did, how would you describe their appearance?
  • What is the impact on you?
  • What helpful things do you usually say to persons (friends, family) who have ruffled feathers? What have you learned that does not help?
  • Having answered these questions, what do you think or feel about the expression to ruffle someone’s feathers that you didn’t before?

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

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