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The Couples Therapist, Susan Lager and the Texas Conflict Coach®, Pattie Porter, discuss ways they each observe and deal with people who have difficulty managing differences about their respective truths regarding any situation. Because “reality” is so subjective, what happened, what was said, what may have been decided may look very different to each person in a situation, often resulting in an emotional standoff. Tune in to learn about indicators of this problem, and to get some vital tools to move through these separate realities more respectfully in your marriage, at work, with your family or friends. Read, Listen, Share »
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It has been over a week since we experienced record-breaking snowfalls. Blizzard Jonas left a lasting mark as clean-up crews continue to plow and remove over 20 inches of snow from the streets of Baltimore City where I reside. Even as an adult, I still get excited when I hear snow is in the forecast. But that excitement is short-lived because once the snow has finished falling, I along with everyone else, have to deal with the aftermath of shoveling out and potentially hazardous roadways and sidewalks from melted ice. The potential for conflict to arise is everywhere.
An interesting conflict the occurs during snowfalls in Baltimore City is over parking spots. Thursday night before the storm commenced, residents began placing folding chairs and other miscellaneous furniture outside to reserve the spaces in front of their houses. I belong to my community’s Facebook group and people quickly began posting pictures, ranting and debating about whether this is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. What I found intriguing about these discussions is how fast they escalated into aggressive responses like, ” I will slash your tires if I see you removed my chairs and took my spot.” Those angered by these comments countered with, “The street is public property, you don’t own the space.” Many of these discussions became so heated that the administrators of the group deleted posts and called for a ceasefire.
Last week on our Conflict Chat program Pattie Porter, Zena Zumeta and I discussed how incidents such as disputing over a parking space or becoming irritated in traffic can trigger us into a protective mode. Pattie then posed the question, “What are we protecting when we get defensive?”
We spoke on-air about how those who have shoveled themselves out may feel protective of that parking space because of all the hard-work, time, and energy they used. When someone swoops in and takes something of value to you, such as a parking space, it could trigger you to become defensive because you want to protect what you see as yours. We challenged listeners to be more self-aware in these situations. You can do this by asking yourself when you’re feeling defensive, what is triggering me to feel this way? What am I protecting? What is of value to me in this situation?
Luckily, I was not one of those people fighting for a parking space. However, I did find myself in morning traffic leaving the city last week, and I was running late to work. I was getting antsy as the first car in the lane I was in appeared not to be paying attention when the light turned green and after a few short moments other cars and myself were pressing our car horns. It was as if the car horns woke me up and I recalled the conflict chat with Pattie and Zena. I then decided to put talk into practice.
I asked myself three questions, and by answering them, I became more self-aware of my emotions, and I was able to gain a better understanding of myself and the situation.
- What is triggering me to feel this way? I was running late, and I was nervous I wouldn’t make it on time to work. I was also angry with myself for leaving later than I should have.
- What am I protecting? When I beeped my car horn at the car in front of me, I was protecting the rules of the road.
3. What is value or need in this situation? My time, reputation, and professionalism were of value to me in this situation. I did not want to show up late to work and risk being unprofessional and perhaps damaging my reputation.
Next time you find yourself triggered by anger or becoming defensive ask yourself these three questions which can assist you in becoming more self-aware.
Be sure to check out our Conflict Chat program here:
Abigail R. C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
I am a very impatient person. I think I’ve stated this in more blog posts than any other negative trait of mine because I have found it has caused many conflicts in my life. I observe on a daily basis that I am not the only person who struggles with patience. I hear people honking car horns when traffic is at a standstill or sighing heavily when the line at Starbucks isn’t moving quick enough. I have watched people hit an already lit elevator door button several times in hopes that the extra pushes will get the elevator there that much sooner. I have seen and heard these acts of impatience, and I will admit I have done these things myself a time or two.
I have over the last five months become more patience in certain situations and owed it all to my husband, and I’s puppy, Alvin. But, I wanted to learn more about impatience, and I found an excellent article recently on Psychology Today by Dr. Jim Stone that outlines, The 7 laws of Impatience. I won’t go into all seven laws, but I want to focus on the first two that resonated something for me.
- In the first law, Dr. Stone describes impatience as ” a very particular mental and physical process that gets triggered under specific circumstances, and which motivates specific kinds of decisive action”. He is stating that impatience can arise in anyone; some people are patience in some situations while others are triggered and react impatiently.
I found this to be an important realization because at first my husband had much more patience than I did with Alvin. I felt guilty every time I got agitated with Alvin and my husband didn’t. I even found myself questioning my dog parent/ future parenting abilities. However, according to this article my husband and I have different triggers that sent off our impatience, and that is entirely normal. Recognizing what your triggers are is important when learning to manage them.
- The second law Dr. Stone explains is, “Impatience is triggered when we have a goal and realize it’s going to cost us more than we thought to reach it.” The idea of not reaching our goal when we thought we would is what triggers the impatience.
I never thought that my impatience stemmed from not meeting a goal, I thought of it as a flaw in my personality. Nevertheless, it turns out in every situation there is a goal I am trying to meet, and when I realize it will take longer to achieve it, my impatient behavior is displayed.
An example is I grow more and more agitated every time Alvin jumps up on the kitchen table, and we have to pull him off and tell him “No.” My goal is for Alvin not to jump up on the table and while it would be splendid if he got this concept right away, that’s not realistic. Rather than becoming frustrated by this, I need to reevaluate my expectations and examine what I could do differently to help meet my goal.
When you feel impatient, ask yourself what is your end goal? Are your expectations for managing your goal realistic? Take some deep breaths and ask yourself if getting agitated will assist in solving the problem or will it make the situation worse?
I have already begun doing this in my day-to-day life with Alvin, with my husband, and with people at work, and I found it to be very helpful in managing my impatience.
Abigail R. C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
My second Minibük® Stop Avoiding Conflict: Learn to Address Disputes Before They Erupt will arrive in February, 2016. I chose to write about this topic because it is a very common approach my clients use to NOT deal with conflict. Organizations that reach out to me for assistance say “the employee says there is NO problem” or dismiss the hidden damage that avoiding conflict has had on working relationships and performance.
Most of us avoid conflict out of habit. A habit is a learned behavior based on an earlier formed belief and past experience that if I avoid/ignore/deflect, I will be safe. As a child, I learned to keep my mouth shut for fear of provoking my grandmother, who believed discipline came through physical, psychological and emotional threats. I learned to avoid conflict at all costs and, as a result, it became an early behavior pattern that continued into my early adult life. For many of us who hate conflict, there is a fear factor. A fear of not being liked, not being successful, not seen as a nice person, not viewed as competent and the list goes on. These fears prevent us from speaking up, voicing our concerns and asking for what we need. Unfortunately, the unaddressed issues fester growing into an ugly dispute and leading to a downward spiral in our working relationships. It can hurt productivity, contribute to stagnation and apathy, and be a barrier to decision-making. The irony is we try to avoid conflict to prevent this and yet, habitually avoiding conflict only leads to eroding trust and shaping people’s negative perceptions of us.
So, what do we do so the problem does not continue to fester and erupt? We must practice courage. Ruth Gordon says “Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” Courage is a choice. Being courageous and fearless takes practice; it requires vulnerability; it means making hard decisions and it requires action. For many people, including me, encountering disagreement and facing escalating interpersonal conflict is scary. Interpersonal conflicts challenge our beliefs, value systems and self-image. The closer we are to someone in a relationship — whether it be our teenager, coworker, spouse, sibling, best friend, boss or neighbor — the greater the opportunity to practice being courageous and building our confidence.
Let’s look at how you can be courageous in the face of conflict.
- Observe and listen for disagreements and misunderstandings. Watch for fight, flight or freeze behaviors in others and recognize your gut reactions of discomfort, anxiety or fear.
- Acknowledge and address disagreements before they escalate. Recognize early signs or statements such as “I only see trouble ahead” or reactions of people sighing and walking away. Then, name the disagreement. Say, “I can tell you’re concerned about this. Let’s talk when you are ready.” By acknowledging concerns early, you may save a relationship or prevent unnecessary damage.
- Get off automatic pilot. Know you can make a choice on how to respond to a conflict trigger. Reacting at lightning speed when someone pushes your hot buttons means you are on automatic pilot. Decide ahead of time how you want to respond in constructive ways, and practice that new behavioral response. For instance, if you typically shut down or walk away when triggered, practice staying and listening.
- Neuroscience research shows how important breathing is to manage our intense emotional reactions such as rage, pain and fear. When you find yourself triggered, take breaths to slow down the racing thoughts and intense feelings. It will help you think more clearly and make constructive choices about how to respond.
- Communicate one unmet need each day. Fear prevents many of us from communicating what we need, so we don’t ask. Identify one important but missing thing you need from someone else. For example, you need extra time from your co-worker to complete your part of an assignment. Ask, “Sue, it is important for us to turn in a complete and accurate report. I need your part of the report no later than 2 p.m.” Keep it simple and build confidence each day.
These are just a few examples of how to begin breaking the habit and taking courageous moments to have your voice heard.
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The Texas Conflict Coach®