Dealing with Conflict
Why does conflict happen? There are many reasons, but I want to point out the neurological reason. In the past, you’ve heard me talk about the amygdala. It is the part of the brain that is wired to instantaneously recognize errors and threats. So, when conversations turn from the expected to the unexpected, our biological response is one of flying fists or fleet feet when what is really needed is gentle attentiveness and intelligent persuasion.
When the amygdala is hijacked by an apparent threat, adrenaline is pumped into your blood stream. Your brain diverts blood from activities that are deemed non-essential to the high-priority task of protecting yourself (like hitting or running). The large muscles in your arms, back and legs get more blood and your brain gets less!! As a result, you are facing your conflict with the same cognitive resources as a prehistoric primate. Is it any wonder that we struggle in this area?
What can you do when this happens? One thing you can do is recognize that the apparent threat isn’t an imminent danger to your physical well-being. It’s just a SPAN (something perceived as negative.)
Many people waste a lot of time and energy trying to change and control everything around them. Our society’s abundance of technology and wealth creates the illusion that we can control just about everything. Many discover that this control is an illusion and become overwhelmed by the unpredictability of events. This is seen as a SPAN and a threat. Some falsely assume that because they can’t control the world around them that they can’t control their own lives. They get the “whatever” attitude. Others fight on and on trying to grab the illusion of control. In any case, the amygdala will recognize this as a threat.
Try to remember that you are in control of your responses. Sure, you might not be able to control your physiological reactions, but you can recognize them as just a biological reaction to an illusion. It’s simply a SPAN, a gap. It’s a gap between your expectation and reality. It can be a SPAN between your perception and someone else’s perception. In any case, it’s not really a threat! Your brain has mis-perceived the situation. (Note: If you are feeling threatened during a conflict, there is probably at least one other person feeling threatened as well: the person on the other side of the SPAN.)
So, what can you do about it? How can you deal with this conflict?
- Realize that if your amygdala is hijacked, someone else’s may also be hijacked. Give them the benefit of the doubt! They are NOT your enemy. They, in fact, are another infinitely valuable human being just like you.
- Ask, don’t assume! What you think you understand about what someone says, how someone looks at you, what someone means by what they do, etc., may often not reflect reality at all, and more often than not lead you down a path that contains more mistrust and relationship-destroying behaviors.
- View the SPAN from different perspectives. Your perception of the SPAN may be negative while another perspective may prove to be positive. This will require you to take a step back and ignore your amygdala’s incorrect reactions.
- Remember that you can only control YOU. You may be able to influence others but you won’t be able to control their behaviors or responses.
- People then Things then Ideas. This is the mathematical hierarchy of value. When you act according to it, you have a much greater chance of producing a positive results. Transpose value and believe that an idea is more important than a person and you will increase the conflict.
- Seek to bridge the SPAN. Look for what is right about the other person’s perspective and build upon it. Instead of continually pointing out that there is a SPAN or gap, look for how you can meet on common ground to bridge the gap.
Conflict resolution isn’t the skill that you are really looking for in these situations. The truth is what you need is relationship-building. Relationship-building is about YOU, not them. Relationship-building is based on your ability to trust yourself enough to trust others.
If you want to learn how to resolve conflicts or deal with difficult people, you don’t need new tips and tricks to control your circumstances. You need more self-knowledge! With self-knowledge, you’ll have self-esteem, self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. You won’t be afraid of the world (or conflict). You will embrace conflict and differences as part of your growing process.
People who are highly successful at resolving conflict are people with superior relationship-building skills. They are surprisingly open about who they are and those around them know that they can trust them. To resolve conflict, you must learn to be real, genuine and authentic because the real, genuine, open you won’t be perceived as a threat.
These are skills that we teach our clients with tremendous results. If conflict resolution and relationship-building are issues for you, please contact me. We would love to help you.
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