Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional

inner-glow-1056365What has become clear to me as I get more into relationship and systems work is that conflict is an inevitable part of life and the aim is not to avoid all forms of confrontation rather it is something much more challenging initially. The key is to recognise what is going on and develop the skills to manage it. I have known this for some time and was rather dismayed that when I reached out to an online group of spiritual people to discuss it, the collective response was almost to deny this truth. That is just burying your head in the sand and ignoring the messiness of life. As spiritual beings having a human experience, our souls want to experience the full range of emotions even those hugely painful ones. We are not our feelings and with greater understanding, we can step back and observe it all rather than getting wrapped up in the drama or denying the reality of it. Let me go on to share with you some recent insights I received which I think help put all this into perspective so that you no longer fear conflict but rather embrace it and move through it, acknowledging all that you have learnt from it.

It starts with understanding stress

How often do you hear people saying that they are stressed out? The implication is that that is the cause of their behaviour but here’s the first fact stress is a symptom not the cause.

Stress comes about when there is inner conflict. Here’s what I love and I am thankful to Sandy Newbigging for explaining this so clearly for me. Conflict is made up of two forces resistance and attachment. Let me go deeper by sharing some of my stuff. When I get frustrated with my daughter for losing things there are two things going on. There is resistance to accepting that as a creative she has a tendency to be scatty AND attachment to the need for order due to a belief that being organised saves time and leads to greater efficiency. In other words the stress I can feel in those situations is not caused by what has happened but by internal disharmony between my resistance to what I don’t want to acknowledge AND an attachment to something I think I need. Sandy puts it as

Stress is a symptom of there being a conflict between what your mind wants and what your soul knows you need; for you to fulfil your life purpose.

 In essence as long as you remain in conflict with life by forcing it to meet your expectations then you will stay stressed. So how do you make the shift?

The first step is to really embrace and start living from the Taoist philosophy of who knows what is good and what is bad. There are many versions of the parable but this is my favourite. It is set in Ancient China when owning a horse was considered a sign of wealth:

One day a wild horse jumped a poor farmer’s fence and began grazing on his land. According to local law, this meant that the horse now rightfully belonged to him and his family. The son could hardly contain his joy, but the father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the horse made its escape back to the mountains and the boy was heartbroken. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” his father said again.  On the third day the horse returned with a dozen wild horses following.  “We’re rich!” the son cried, to which the father again replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” On the fourth day the boy climbed on one of the wild horses and was thrown, breaking his leg. His father ran to get the doctor; soon both of them were attending to the boy, who was upset and in a great deal of pain. The old farmer looked deeply into his son’s eyes, and said, “My son, who knows what is good or bad?” And on the fifth day the province went to war.  Army recruiters came through the town and took all the eligible young men to fight the war.  The farmer’s son was not taken because he had a broken leg.

This comes to my final point which is that the more you can suspend judgement and develop 360 degree thinking the greater versatility you will have to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Interestingly in some research published by the Harvard Business Review recently 360 degree thinking was in the top five attributes considered to be vital for leaders today. That’s hardly surprising as the old command-control structures give way to ones built on self-organising principles which are about empowering employees to see themselves as leaders.

If this seems like too big a stretch for you right now then let me offer you the first step. It comes true-happiness-innerpeace-1-1441466by breaking with your routine, even taking a breath and trying a different approach. This becomes much easier when you build in daily meditation time. In the last 12 years there have been over 10,000 studies done that show the benefits of mindfulness. I know how busy you are and that finding an hour a week for eight weeks can be a challenge. So I have designed a weekend course, which will enable you to get all the tools that you need to bring about a step change in your life. And what people have said about my programme is that it is highly practical and introduces techniques that you can build into a hectic schedule. I know what its like as I have two small children and two businesses to run and I couldn’t do it without this as my foundation.

Find out more details about the weekend, including client testimonials here. Being towards the end of November, it makes a great early Christmas present to yourself and you will feel rejuvenated by the end of the weekend.

8 tips on how to handle conflict more effectively

A Sign Of ConflictThis weekend I experienced a profound shift and it was as if there were a number of light bulbs going off as the “aha” moments flooded in. The first thing I wanted to do was to get this post up so that I could share my thinking with you.  Things have been crystallising for me over the last  year whilst I have been sharing tools on how to deal with conflict with nurses and midwives.  In some ways the material I was working with just didn’t seem to go deep enough and I feel like I now have some of the missing pieces having started my ORSC training this weekend.  So I have consolidated my thinking for you below.


Before you even sense a potential conflict, notice in your body how you see conflict.  This kind of awareness will give you many clues to how well you manage it. If you are not sure then start by doing the following exercise:

  1. Say to yourself or write down conflict is and then fill in the blank.
  2. What did you find? How often was your internal response something like debilitating, draining or even to be avoided at all costs?
  3. To what extent did you come up with neutral thoughts like a difference of opinion or voicing distinct perspectives?
  4. Did you have any thoughts like conflict is a great way to clear the air?

This last response may feel unlikely but often if you can remain neutral or even positive in a difficult situation, you are likely to be more skilful in the way you handle the challenge. I used to actively relish confrontation because it was an opportunity to be very straight and direct with others. As I have grown older, I have become more conscious that this can be quite a high risk strategy especially in the UK where directness is not always appreciated. These days my intention is to remain calm and not be triggered by what is happening in front of me AND that is easier said than done.

Self care is absolutely vital. So if you feel emotionally flooded then it is probably sensible to say to the other party that you are not in the right place to have the conversation and take yourself off until you are in a place where you can share calmly what is going on for you.  Some may call this avoiding the issue but in fact it is a really mature way to approach situations when you feel strongly about what is happening and are finding it hard to practise emotional self-management.

Another entry point around conflict is to become super attuned to your own emotional state. As soon as you sense even a bit of discomfort or low level anxiety, check in with yourself and be curious about what is causing it. If you can catch yourself at this point you will be much better placed to handle the issue in a way that is effective.

An example of this for me recently was increased awareness about a business relationship in that I noticed that it wasn’t working for me. My first reaction was that the person was not delivering and that I would need to find a new person to do that work. Then I took a step back and reflected on the bigger picture.

I always like to have a personal relationship with those that work for me.  Taking a moment to pause, I found some compassion for the individual and became conscious that they were going through a major transition personally and so probably needed some slack. At that point I picked up the phone and we talked.

The first thing I did was to voice what I thought was going on for them and to ask if they had any unmet needs that I could help with at this time. This meant that they were able to relax because they knew I appreciated them for who they were. We then had a frank discussion around my expectations and found a way forward. Even with that part of the conversation, I did not just state the facts, the impact it was having on me and what I wanted to happen next. I started by acknowledging them and who they are. Everyone needs to feel seen.

 This whole process made me realise how much I liked working with this person because they are so direct and open in their communication style. We had another business call the following day and at the end of it, we had a further discussion. Previously they had said that they could not fit in a piece of work I had asked them to do. When I enquired further, we discovered it was because it felt too difficult to do alone. So I suggested that we could do it together and then we explored when we might be able to fit that in and came up with a workable solution. In other words, asking questions and being curious will give you much more to work with rather than making assumptions or even judgements based on your first impressions or even the initial response you receive.

Another of the key things that I have learnt is the value of communicating either face to face or over the phone. Don’t sort out challenging situations via email; it rarely works because it is so hard to really know the intention behind what someone has written. Something I learnt to my cost earlier this year when I was too slow to pick up the phone.

Finally when we look at relationships systematically there is one rule to hold on to and that is that everyone is partially right. Too often when triggered, you will look for ways to blame the other party or justify your own actions. If you can uphold the belief that there is some truth in every position, you will find it easier to discover a way through.

In my next post, I will start to explore what tends to happen in conflict and the best ways to resolve that.  I would love to hear your thoughts on all this as helping people to get better results from their communication is at the heart of the work that I do.  What are major sources of conflict in your life?  How helpful are these ideas with that?