A few weeks ago, I attended a conference designed to teach about conflict resolution in the workplace. (I instinctively typed workout instead of workplace. Almost did it again.) And even though the workSHOP didn’t really center around strength or nutrition, I came away feeling like a much stronger individual.
Initially, I told Erik that I was going to “some training led by this famous Irish soldier and former CIA operative.” (While these are rumored to be true, all I really know is that he is Irish, a fighter–aren’t they all?–and worked/works? for the US government.) Anyway, since Erik is Irish, I thought he might know of this guy. (Did I just stereotype Erik?) Still, Erik told me that I had to take good notes so that I could write a guest post for his Poor Teachers website. After all, conflict management and resolution sounds WAY more teacher-ish than strong figure-ish.
I did not expect to take 12+ pages of notes on a 7-hour Friday workday. Nor did I expect to walk away with a plethora of psychological knowledge.
George Flanagan, internationally known speaker and doctor of psychology, was AMAZING. I know I was there to better myself for my company/employment, but I couldn’t help but think that everything I learned was going to make me an overall better person.
For example–we talked a whole heck of a lot about being a “hostage” in our lives and how our perceptions of the world, people, even ourselves, can trap us in our own minds and blind us from truths, opportunities, and let our fears take control of our actions.
I immediately thought about my life and how I was “trapped” for so long by fear of a career that I didn’t love and how it took so much courage to leave! I think about anyone in any situation trapped–held hostage by fear–abusive relationships, fear of trying something new, being independent, starting over, etc., etc.–the list is endless. How many of us need to break away from something holding us hostage in life? Something from keeping us from being better than we can truly be? How many of us are too trapped by fear to make a healthy change?
You can see that this easily fires me up. And it does so because Flanagan touched so many parts of both my past and even current psychological states. I often tell people that it took me five or more years to find the courage to break out of one profession to start from scratch at something completely new. On the one hand, I’m beyond thrilled about life now. On the other, I was TERRIFIED of what life would be like when I wasn’t teaching anymore. That was a 10-year profession–GONE! How long did I stay there only because I felt trapped and full of fear? And that’s just my past state of mind. I’m still my own hostage some days. I won’t lie–my life is awesome. But having a job with a lot of freedom coupled with a career in what I’m most passionate about, and I’ve made my entire LIFE one big ball of go-go-go energy! My day of “fit” starts at 5am and every single hour of mine is PACKED until 10, sometimes 11pm. It’s actually 1am right now on a Friday night…I’m praying my body will ignore its “natural clock” and let me sleep in tomorrow.
Do you know how stressed I get sometimes? How I fight off anxiety because I now want to do TOO much work?! It’s crazy, huh? But 1am…I’m living proof. I’m still a mess.
Flanagan helped me to see that while I’m lucky–I broke away from one of my biggest fears in life–I’m still a hostage to my own mind. And this creates conflict.
Let me tell you what I learned about the negatives about conflict in our lives:
- First of all, it creates stress. Stress produces cortisol, and cortisol makes people fat. (And to think…I’m always fighting off extra fat pounds.) And are you an imploder or exploder? When you get stressed, do you hold it all in or do you let it out? Do you bottle up and explode? Do you have a meltdown? Have Sunday anxiety attacks about the upcoming week when you didn’t tackle everything on your to-do list from last week?! (I have no idea who this could be…)
- Second, conflict leads to a loss of self esteem. Lately, there have been SO MANY FREAKING posts circulating the world wide web about super fit people, not so fit people, obese people, strong is the new skinny people, be who you are and be proud of it people…..you’re on my site right now so I know you know what I’m talking about. There is an epidemic of low self esteem sweeping the nation! People are outright BASHING one another through sites–just like this one–all because one person’s proud moment is another’s slap in the face. Somewhere, there are a sh*t ton of people in conflict with themselves, suffering from esteem issues, bashing their own images, and holding themselves hostages to their own negative images and bringing themselves down. It’s incredibly sad, and they’re creating conflict with all the happy people. Why can’t we just get along?
- Third, conflict leads to destructive relationships. Whether it’s self esteem, trust issues, fear, feelings of being trapped…something bad is happening in one too many relationships. How many good relationships could be saved if we just put aside our own issues, get out of our own mind’s eye, and just for a brief moment look at the world from a different panoramic view?!
- Fourth, conflict is leading to poor performance–at home, work, the gym–and can actually lead to serious and costly consequences in our lives and our organizations!
Let’s get a grip, people!
Here’s the cool thing I learned in my training last week. Conflict is actually pretty damn natural. In fact, Flanagan said that “conflict is as natural as breathing.”
Whew! You thought your life was crumbling for a moment, didn’t you!
Here’s what you need to really know about conflict:
- Avoiding conflict is one of the most common ways to become a hostage to it. Remember–we don’t want to be hostages! Why avoid something so natural? Let’s embrace it. Said Christina, I just wanna feel this moment…
- Our brains are hard wired to avoid conflict. It’s NOT YOUR FAULT! This actually makes me feel a lot better. I HATE conflict. I really REALLY do. But good God, I always seem to find my way in the middle of it. Human beings are genetically predisposed to run the other way from conflict. That explains a lot about most guys, doesn’t it ladies? I think this is great news. It’s sort of like me going to physical therapy and finding out my shoulder is torn. Hey, it’s not necessarily going to fix itself, but at least I now know what the deal is and why I’m always feeling hurt! All we have to do now is re-wire our thinking. Not too hard, right?
- I’ll say it again: We must RE-WIRE our thinking so that we step TOWARD conflict. Hmmm…now that’s an interesting thought. How many times do we back away from something that might turn into a fight? A disagreement? An argument? A spat? Hold something in? Create resentment in our minds? Form a skewed perspective? I can go on but you’re smart enough to get where I’m going. If we were all mature enough to step towards a possible conflict and hit it head on….my God, could you even imagine such a thing? I want you to practice this with yourself first, and then with a loved one or relative. (They can only be mad for so long if it doesn’t work.) Report back and tell us what happened when you stepped TOWARD that conflict.
- Make a list of all your conflicts–personal, people, whatever–and view them all as a challenge, a problem to be solved, an opportunity, or something positive. If I had actually looked at all my conflicts–with both myself and others–and viewed them as challenges or opportunities to solve problems–I can’t even imagine how different life might be.
- Conflicts stimulate compromise, cooperation, and a give-get relationship with those we care about. CONFLICT IS GOOD!
- Conflict encourages personal growth. I am telling you right now, it takes a MUCH stronger person to approach and then solve a conflict than to avoid one.
- Conflict actually stimulates curiosity and creativity. We need more of this in the world.
- Conflict reflects energy. We all want more energy.
- Conflict enables robust debate. Erik will like this one…he loves debating. He also thinks he’s always right.;) He would be a good one to test the “approach conflict” method. But in all honesty, I’ve learned more some days by listening to him debate with someone than I’ve ever studied in any text book or have seen on any news program. Conflict can be a powerful weapon.
Resolve Your Conflict.
Once you realize that conflict is positive, natural, and inviting, it’s important to realize that you CAN solve problems that you are facing!
- First of all, even if you don’t necessarily want to, you’ve GOT to create positive bonds with whomever you disagree with and maintain that bond no matter how mad you get! You can’t let super-charged emotion override your sense of logic! You can’t burn bridges. Is alienating someone ever going to leave you feeling healthy? TRUST ME, I know it’s incredibly tough. There are days where I have to constantly remind myself not to “burn a bridge” and speak my mind. I’m thankful I remember this. I’ve had bridges burnt with me and let me tell you one thing, I might forgive, but as the saying goes, I never forget. Is it healthy? Probably not. When conflict isn’t handled properly, time bombs explode. Don’t be a bomb and don’t burn those who have stood by you, been there for you, or helped you out. It’s just too wrong. Approach your conflict.
- Did you know that you don’t even have to like someone to form a bond with him/her? It’s true! Of course it helps if you do like the person, but even if you don’t like your co-worker, gym instructor, teacher, student, whatever–you can still form a positive bond!
- You MUST be able to work with those you’re in conflict with, and it will help to create one common goal. Sometimes we have to put aside our own feelings to gain insight on the true problem and then realize what the actual goal needs to be.
- Your own hostage negativity can learn to override the mind’s eye. It can actually learn to suspend judgement!
When you submit to conflict, YOU LOSE.
What exactly do you give up?
- A sense of attachment
Put the Fish on the Table.
This little phrase caught me off guard when I heard it, but once explained, I’ll never forget it. Conflict surrounds us. We can hide from it, leave it under the table to rot and small, or we can just put it all out there for subjects to see. We can start balancing reason with emotion and most importantly, we can even learn to separate the person from the behavior. I turn into a raging bit*h and scream at Erik when I’m hungry. He could get mad at ME or he could recognize the behavior–which he always does. “Go eat something Steph, and then we’ll talk.” Like it’s nothing. Conflict solved before it even happened because it was a recognized behavior. Here are some final tips on resolving conflict in your life:
- Communicate. And do it well.
- Be reliable and honest.
- Persuade people rather than coerce them.
- Understand mutual acceptance.
- Maintain bonds.
- Maintain a sincere desire to solve the issue.
- Never be hijacked by intense emotions.
- Become aware of dialogue blocks (folded arms, silent treatments, re-defining, being too passive, discounting, etc.)
At the most basic level, all of our brains are hard wired for attack or defense. Will you start attacking your conflicts head on? Or will you run and hide? Avoid at all costs?
In today’s world of stress, little sleep, too many to-do lists, and not enough relaxation/time off, we don’t have a lot of hours to focus on our mental health–something I think is extremely underrated. And I honest to God believe that if my mental health was even a smidge better, I’d be even happier, fitter, and healthier. Mental health takes a back seat to lifestyle and with so many of us here focusing on strength, health, happiness, and success, it’s a shame we haven’t spoken of this sooner.
I might have gone to work a few weeks ago thinking I was getting employee training, but lucky for me, I learned a BIG lesson about life: barbells and chicken salad will only get me so far–the rest is up to me.
What do YOU think?
I also learned a lot about what it takes to be a good, successful leader from Flanagan’s training. I posted that one over on Poor Teachers. Please check it out. Like this post, it’s very much centered on being the leader in our lives, and breaking away from the hostage role.
Please share your comments below! Thanks!
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Michele Tracy says
GREAT article!!! Will definately share!
Stephanie Wimer says
Thanks Michele!!! 🙂
I love you. You find the best and most useful topics to post about. It makes me so happy to be a part of strongfigure when I see how great everyone’s articles are. I charge at conflict….I don’t allow people to shit me out. Ever. Thre are even people I am still working on today, YEARS later. However, I’m a prisoner of fear. Something I’m trying oh so hard to get past. It’s strange, came our of nowhere and very unlike me. I’m afraid of riding with people, meeting new people, flying, roller coasters…basically anything I’m not in control of. Wtf is going on?? I’m working on it though.
Stephanie Wimer says
I think it’s just as natural to have fears as it is to have conflict. I have a fear of spiders, talking on the phone, meeting new people, going places alone (even as simple as visiting family), public speaking, eating carbs…lol, seriously my list is endless. I guess that’s what makes us human…and strange. But I think from what I learned from Dr. Flanagan, we just need to look at fears as new challenges. Overcoming them equals a new PR in the record books. 🙂
Steph, I LOVED this post so much. It truly was so informative and gave a lot of good tips. I often avoid doing things that make me uncomfortable… But I must also ask YOU WERE A TEACHER?! What grade? I am getting my masters right now in literacy actually!
Stephanie Wimer says
Amber, I taught high school English for 10 years!!! I started teaching freshmen and photojournalism, then about half way through switched over to seniors (British Lit and college prep) and Advanced Composition. I love love love reading and writing!! I wish I had more time for both!!!!!!!