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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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How Can We Understand Everything?

Miles Davis once said, “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.” That quote stuck with me and I have repeated this phrase and variations of it when talking about interpersonal conflict, and how we often react to misunderstandings because we missed what the other person meant or where they were coming from. You, like I, have undoubtedly encountered many situations when that occurs. In fact, it is easy to misinterpret what others say, if we don’t have a context, a relationship built on trust, cultural similarities or understandings, openness, or the same senses of humour or appreciation for the other’s. Further, disparate values and beliefs, biases, mindsets, life experiences, and many other variables have an impact on our understanding of one another – what they say, what they do, how they interact, and so on. Essentially, we are not them and they are not us – so how can we understand everything they say or do?

It is often the case that we assume we know what people are saying and why – and react accordingly. We use our lens, our values, our expectations, our hopes, and other frames to interpret what we are hearing or seeing. If we know the other person well many of our perceptions are validated by the history we have with them, though we may not be absolutely clear on everything. That said, our assumptions are often within the realm of possibility if we have a close relationship. In these cases, when we disagree or adversely experience what they are saying or doing, we are more apt to engage the other person in a conversation – to gain a better understanding of their words or actions. When we don’t know people well or the relationship is breaking down, lack of connection and incorrect attributions preclude building trust and developing a relationship in which it feels safe to raise questions and discuss what is going on. In either case, the continuing unknown can result in growing tension and ongoing dissension, in developing more and more adverse assumptions, in questioning our judgement, in faltering trust in the other person – and even ourselves.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog suggests you consider a conflict situation – an argument that evolved because it was clear you and the other person did not understand one another – or, at least, one of you didn’t get what the other was meaning.

  • What misunderstanding happened that resulted in an argument?
  • As far as you can tell, what did you specifically misunderstand about the other person? The situation? The interaction between you?
  • For what reasons might the other person have said or done that which has caused you upset?
  • What words might you use besides upset?
  • What would you prefer the other person had said or did instead, in this circumstance?
  • What did the other person seem to misunderstand about you? The situation, The interaction between you?
  • What seemed to be causing that person upset – such as, how might they have interpreted what you said or did?
  • What other words might the other person use to describe their experience in that conflict with you – from what you can tell?
  • What do you need from the other person to be able to move on? What might the other want or need from you to move on?
  • What are you most curious about right now?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

(Popular- from the archives)

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Recently, a colleague asked whether I think my clients want to resolve or solve things when they come for conflict management coaching. I found that a very interesting question and pondered about the differences and how they show up. And then, I thought more about what I would say in response to the question. I would say that most of my clients want both solution and resolution but, mostly resolution.

The main difference between solve and resolve, according to one source, is that solve usually refers to the process of finding a correct answer to the problem. Resolve refers to bringing the problem to an end or conclusion. There is no set answer for resolving a problem, but there is for solving a problem. This is an important distinction to consider especially when two people dispute about their differing views about what they want to have happen – solve, resolve or both. I am thinking it’s worth exploring with my clients what is most important to them and why.

As I thought about this further I realize when we are involved in an interpersonal dispute it isn’t necessarily straightforward to distinguish whether both of us want to revolve things or solve the issues or both. It may be that one of us wants to solve things and the other to resolve them – whether or not the issues are solved. That is, for some, the best case scenario might be that the problem ends and being solved isn’t as important as the dissension ending (even though the issues remain unresolved). For instance, we could agree to disagree, or conclude there isn’t a mutually satisfactory solution. We might decide the problem isn’t serious enough to warrant continuing debate and hard feelings that appear to be irreconcilable. We may decide to relent to the solution the other person wants and figure out a way to have some inner reconciliation to be able to move on and so on.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider an interpersonal dispute – one about which you are aware one of you  wants resolution and the other wants solution.

  • What is the dispute about?
  • What are the main issues in dispute?
  • What do you want as an outcome?
  • What is preferable for you – to solve or resolve or to both solve and resolve this dispute?
  • Why do you want to solve it or why do you want to resolve it? Or, why do you want to both solve and resolve the dispute?If you want the issues solved and resolved what would a good resolution be in your view?
  • What might the other person say the main issues in dispute are from their perspective?
  • Which do you suppose that person is aiming for – to solve or resolve things? Or, solve and resolve? Why do you say that (your answer here)?
  • What might the other person view as a way to resolve things?
  • Where are the two of you farthest part when it comes to solving and resolving things? Where are the two of you closest?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have now that you didn’t have before you answered these questions?
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It seems to me – based on my work as a conflict management coach and, well, just as myself – that one of the things that leads to interpersonal conflict is when we have expectations of another. It might have to do with how we interact on a day-to-day basis, how we treat one another privately and publicly, how we communicate when in conflict, how we support each other, or whether our values and needs are compatible. Further, we might expect someone to support us in a matter, to acknowledge something we did for them, to care for us when we are not well or unhappy, to meet our needs, to recognize our good deeds, to trust us, to respect our decisions and reasons we acted in certain ways, and so on. The list is endless!

It is worth considering this variable when we find ourselves reacting to these and other sorts of circumstances. Exploring our affirmative answer to the question, “Am I reacting because of unmet expectations?”, will make it easier to understand what we needed and ultimately, easier to articulate that to the other person. Taking a look, too, at our related reactions helps us do so. Indicators may be if we are feeling disappointment, betrayal, dismissed, ignored, not trusted, that we and our needs are not taken seriously, and many other emotions that reflect that we are let down by what the other person said or did or didn’t say or do.

How we manage situations and the range of feelings we experience will differ depending on variables such as the length and nature of our relationship, our needs and values and beliefs, influences from our upbringing, how we are feeling at the time, the amount of stress in our lives, our general state of health and well-being, and so on.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is about this topic and you are invited to consider an interpersonal dispute in which you experienced unmet expectations in the situation and emotions that reflect that as you answer the following:

  • What is the situation?
  • What did the other person say or do, or not say or do, that had an adverse impact on you? How might you describe the impact on you?
  • What, more specifically, did you expect of that person that they didn’t deliver on?
  • What makes the aforementioned expectation especially important to you?
  • What reasons are you attributing to the other person for what they said or did or didn’t say or do?
  • What excuses have you made for the other person – such that you are inclined to let the situation go without voicing your expectations, if that is what you are doing?
  • What do you know for sure about the other person’s motivation for not meeting your expectations? What don’t you know about their motivation?
  • What is your fear, worry, concern about letting the other person know, if you are reticent to tell the other person?
  • What advantages are there to raising the matter? What are the disadvantages?
  • What are your expectations of yourself in this matter?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

(Popular- from the archives)

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“You just need enough bravery for the next step, not the whole staircase”

Avoidance is one of the many styles we have to choose from when it comes to our relational disputes. As with other styles we have come to learn and use, for whatever reasons we do so, they become habitual and changing them is a huge challenge.

The reality is that avoiding conflict is one of the most common methods for managing conflict and having this pattern may mean, among other things, we let our fears take over. It may mean not speaking out and expressing our feelings and our truths. It may mean we are afraid to confront the other person for their bad behaviour – afraid to stand up for ourselves. Further, we may fear a backlash (we imagine or know could happen from previous experience) we cannot control or want to deal with. Our fears prevail – fears of alienating and upsetting the other person beyond repair, fears of saying things we will forever regret, fears of having to deal with the unsettled and prolonged reactions – ours and theirs, fears about not trusting ourselves, and so on. These and other fears keep us from feeling brave and addressing the issues in dispute and its impact on us and the relationship*.

What happens to many of us when we consider raising an issue with another person or when we feel stung by what they have said or done is that we want things to get resolved and for things to be better as soon as possible.  We want the other person to understand what we are asking for, saying or disputing without things negatively escalating between us. The pathway of getting through and then, past what occurred in our disputes feels onerous at these times and we experience a range of physical and emotional reactions which are difficult to navigate. We do not feel strong and courageous.

*(I am not talking here about the experiences and fears of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Rather, this blog and other Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blogs are about interpersonal disputes i.e. arguments  and other interactions where we and another person (or persons) are sparring about issues important to us – not including abusive behaviours. Some of us may, of course, experience the interactions as abusive and some of the questions below may not apply.)

This week’s blog considers the little steps it takes – one by one – to move forward in these sorts of situations. I suggest you bring to mind a situation you want to address with the other person and you are feeling fearful about doing so as you answer the following questions.

  • What is the situation that is causing you concern?
  • About what are you most fearful?
  • Which of those fears are least likely to happen? Which of those fears are most likely to happen?
  • What are the main issues in dispute for you? What do you think the main issues are for the other person?
  • What’s most important to you regarding this dispute?
  • What outcome might the other person want?  What makes that important to them?
  • What will you stay away from saying?  What will you say if you get provoked that will help you get through this? What other intentions may you set before proceeding?
  • How do you want to “be” throughout this to remain conscious of what is important to you?
  • What is the first step you might consider before you approach the other person about the situation if you decide to proceed? What other steps might you need to take before you feel ready to raise the issue?
  • To feel brave about taking the first step what do you need to tell yourself? What do you want to be thinking about your courage to make it a reality? What would it take to take the next steps?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have now that you didn’t have before you answered these questions?
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“The bravest thing you can do is be unafraid to feel”

When we feel emotional about a conflict – hurt, anger, betrayal, disappointment, and so on – it is a clear sign that something important to us is being challenged or threatened or undermined. That might seem like an understatement. However, the importance of acknowledging what emotions we are experiencing and why cannot be overstated. That is, it’s important and brave to remain unafraid to feel what is going on for us at these times.

This is for many reasons, one of which is that when we step back – and identify the emotions and to what they relate – we gain a better understanding of what motivated our reactions and ongoing ruminations. Also, by taking some time and thinking things out a bit, we start to make a shift to reflection from reaction, which helps move us into a more productive mind set. That shift often facilitates the ability to gain a better perspective, including an understanding of what is motivating the other person. Or, at least, we might move into a better head space to be able to engage them in a conversation – rather than a confrontation – about what is going on between us.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider an interpersonal dispute about which you are aware you are feeling afraid to let yourself feel or name your emotions about the other person, the situation or yourself.

  • What is the dispute about?
  • What three words describe what you are feeling about the other person?
  • What three words describe what you are feeling about yourself?
  • What are you afraid of feeling?
  • What are you afraid of saying to the other person?
  • What is the brave thing to do about the situation?
  • What is the brave thing to say?
  • What is the brave thing to feel about yourself?
  • If you were to feel what you are keeping inside, what do you fear might happen?
  • If you were to express what you are feeling how might that help?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

(Popular- from the archives)

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