On a recent red-eye flight to Sydney, the woman next to me put her backpack on her tray table, pulled her hoodie over her head and appeared to be sleeping.

The tea and coffee trolley came and went. She appeared to sleep through it all.

Fair enough – it was really early.

It was a bit of a bumpy flight; the seat belt sign came on about half an hour into the flight and they said over the loudspeaker that there would be no more hot drinks on this flight.

Eventually the woman next to me surfaced. It was just as the flight attendant was going past picking up the rubbish. My neighbour asked if she could have a drink.  A tea… no make that a coffee.

My first thought was “are you kidding me… you’ve slept through the foodservice and you are now wanting the flight attendant to drop everything and get you a hot drink.”  Then my self-righteous good girl persona kicked in and I thought “And you’ve asked for a hot drink and they are not serving hot drinks!”

I was so in a judgemental mood!

The flight attendant “smiled” at my neighbour and said “of course” and disappeared.  Nothing happened for some time.

So about 10 minutes later my neighbour rings the bell and this time two flight attendants turn up.

The senior attendant was brilliant. She didn’t make a judgment at all (unlike me).  She smiled and was calm and said, “are you ok?” And my neighbour said, “no, I have a really bad earache and a migraine, and I think a warm drink might help”.

The flight attendant said that they weren’t serving hot drinks due to the turbulence, but she would get her one if she promised to be really careful.

I felt terrible.  I had been so judgmental of this person. I hope the coffee helped her feel better.

I was sorry I was such a judgmental cow. And I was truly impressed with the level of service of the flight attendant!

I am not a fashionista. I am a jeans-and-hoodie type of girl. 

I own about six pairs of shoes. Sandshoes, ugg boots, comfortable black boots, sensible flats and two pairs of sandals. I don’t understand people’s obsession with shoes.  I don’t even like buying shoes. 

My daughter, on the other hand, is shoe-obsessed. She has multiple pairs of sandals, heels and flats. Her shoes don’t fit into her cupboards. 

I was at her place the other day, helping her sort out some furniture for her bedroom and said “why do you need so many shoes?” and she rolled her eyes at me. “Mum, you are so old!”

I grumbled and my brain went into grumpy mode whilst I looked at ways she could fit more things in her cupboards than out of her cupboards.  

And then I remembered that this was her place, her clothes, her shoes. This had nothing to do with me.  

Why do I care if she has a lot of shoes? Who am I to impose my disinterest in shoes and clothing in general on to her? We’re different and that’s ok. 

I see lots of people in teams who want everyone to think like them, to do it their way so that they can prove that they are right, that their way is the best way. 

This is when you need to ensure your team has great clarity – where are we going and how we are going to get there. When you have that sorted, then people don’t need to sweat the small stuff. 

Go well. 

Every time I deal with a new conflict I go on an exploration of what is not being said.  Sometimes I discover people are holding on to secrets, but more often than not people are holding on to assumptions.  

Assumptions about what the other person knows or thinks. They’re nearly always wrong or misguided.  

And the conflict usually gets worse because no-one is prepared to start a conversation.  

So people worry about what the other person is thinking. They create stories in their head that are not based in fact. They get distracted by these stories and don’t focus on their work and they become less efficient. And this costs the company or the organisation a lot of money and time. 

If you want to improve the efficiency of your team, teach them how to communicate effectively so that they don’t have to deal with unresolved and expensive conflict. So that they can start a conversation which might be a little bit uncomfortable. Every time. 

I deal with a lot of perfect storms.  A series of events that escalate to a mighty crescendo of almighty conflict, loud and cruel words and hurt feelings.  It’s like watching a movie; event after event leading to this incredible moment in time.

As an outsider looking in it is obvious that this moment is going to occur if not today at some time in the future; but not so for the parties involved in the conflict. They are so absorbed in everything that is going on that they don’t see how close they are to this defining moment in their relationship.

The parties to the perfect storm always want to tell me about what happened on that eventful day when the crescendo hit. They want me to believe their version of the events. They want me to understand how “reasonable” they were in that moment.

I always believe what people tell me about those events. They are telling me their truth. And it is imperative that they get an opportunity to vent and tell their story.

They are processing all of the events and they do not want to be the one who was responsible for tipping the crisis to this point.

And that’s ok….because what happens on that day is usually not the main issue. It is an outcome not a cause.

I want to understand why it happened, not what happened. I want to hear about the feelings of resentment, unfairness, of not being valued or of being disrespected.  I want to know what triggered those feelings. Then, and only then, can we start the healing process.

The main question is not what happened… it is why did it happen?

 

We live on a steep hill. Apparently, it’s a great road to ride your bike up.  Nice and steep and really hard. It’s also a nice road to ride your bike down – super fast.

The other day, when I was getting into my car which was on the road at 5.45 am to go to a breakfast networking event, a middle-aged man on a bike was huffing and puffing as he made his way up the hill.

Now our road is so steep that it is truly much easier to get off your bike and walk it up the hill than ride it.  So you have to be very strong and fit to ride up the hill.

So I called out to the cyclist and said “you’re really strong” because there’s no way I could ride my bike up the hill and he was going so slowly there was plenty of time for conversation.

He responded by telling me that he wouldn’t be able to get to the top of the hill today because he had to go to work. He said a couple more things, and then I was on my way, and the conversation was over.

I thought to myself that the information about his not being able to get to the top of the hill was probably not relevant.  So why did he tell me? Well, I surmise that it was important to him. He had started justifying what he was and wasn’t going to do. I had given him a compliment and he countered with a reason as to why he wasn’t really strong.

There is always a reason for us to say something. We might be trying to impress someone, get noticed, demonstrate that we are a friendly person, hide our embarrassment, educate someone or show them that they had made a mistake.

If someone comes to you and starts talking and won’t stop, chances are they want attention. They might not feel valued in the workplace or at home.

Everytime someone says something and you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself what are they trying to achieve by telling you this information?  It will help you to find the right question so that you get to the cause of the problem. And the other person will be valued and respected.

I see it all the time. We just can’t help ourselves.  

Someone says something rude or cruel in the heat of the moment and we take the bait and we jump in and take offence and may say something rude and cruel back. And it’s on. The gloves go on and the conflict begins. And sometimes these conflicts can last for days, weeks, months and even years.

And the more stressed we are, the more likely that we are going to be sucked into this scenario.

We take the words and actions of another person about us very personally; and yet so often these words and actions have nothing to do with us.

When a person is stressed and in pain, they go inwards. They worry about themselves. They notice their own hurt, they feel like the world is happening to them, they are reactive.  They go into an increasingly victim state. The world of one. The world of me.

And they think it is unfair that they hurt so much. Why should they be the only person to suffer? So they lash out.  They want other people to hurt like they do. The reflect their pain and thoughts about themselves onto other people, usually the people the love the most. Because those people are the safest people in the world to attack.

And if we are in the firing line of this type of stressed out attack, and if we too are stressed, then we can very easily get “sucked in” and want to hurt them back.

When a toddler has a melt down we can usually very easily recognise that this a child that is overwhelmed by something in the moment and that this will pass. We just need to be patient and calm and make sure that they are safe and that we maintain our usual boundaries so that they know that they are safe.  But as adults, we often struggle to see that the person behaving badly is actually overwhelmed with stress; that they just need to have their melt down safely and they need your reassurance that everything is okay.

But it is so hard not to react to someone being so rude, so cruel.  So we all too often react and go down with them.

We need to remove ourselves from the space we are in if we find ourselves either feeling abusive towards someone or being abused.  We need to leave the room, the building or get out of the car. We need to walk and walk and calm down. We need some space. We can’t think straight when we are emotionally triggered.

And if words are said and pain caused; go back to the other person when things have calmed down and revisit the conversation. Get vulnerable and help the other person to understand what was going on for you in that moment. And they might get vulnerable too.

Don’t let a stressed out moment destroy a relationship.

I am an elite athlete – NOT!  

According to all the health professionals who I need to see on a regular basis just to keep me upright, I have hyper-flexible joints or muscles or… something. I also have lazy glutes and a dodgy back. In fact I was told about 15 years ago that I would need surgery on my back one day because my back looked like it was about 20 years old than me. Impressive.  Oh and I have the tightest and possibly sorest calves in the land.

And because I got read the Riot Act by my doctor a few years ago who said I was going to die if I didn’t start looking after myself, I now exercise pretty much every day and put this poor troubled body to work.

In fact I run; very, very slowly. And then when I’m tired I walk. And I love it. Best time of the day.

But I still have this problem of very, very tight and sore calves.  I used to try and stretch them out to release the pressure and stop them aching but it didn’t work. Then one day I realised that every time I got a massage or saw my chiropractor they would apply firm pressure on my tight shoulder and neck muscles.  They didn’t try stretch those muscles, the just applied direct pressure.

Initially that pressure hurts a lot.  I have to breathe through the pain and then slowly but surely the muscle releases and the pain is gone.

So I started applying the same technique to my poor old calves and ta da – it works. I get far more relief in my calves by applying pressure. It hurts a heap when I first press my thumb into the sorest spot but then almost like magic the pain is gone.

And so it is with dealing with a conflict situation.  The greatest pain, the sorest spot is that moment just before the parties come together to have a “difficult” conversation.  In that moment before we rip off the bandaid there is so much fear and uncertainty. So many negative thoughts and concern that the other person will be proved right, that we are a bad person or worse still, a loser.

But once we move past that first initial discomfort and lay our pain and troubles on the table and we start exploring the issues and getting clarity, the pain starts to whittle away.  The wound might still be there. It might take a bit of time to heal. But the outcome is never as bad as people imagine it will be.

Focus on the trigger points. Apply pressure to the sore spots in your relationships and then enjoy the benefits of the release from the discomfort, the emotional pain and lack of certainty.

 

I reckon conflict gets a bad rap.

I reckon that conflict is a word that is regularly misunderstood.

People tell me that they think I’ve made a mistake having ‘conflict’ in my business name – too negative they say. People don’t like conflict, they say.

They’re right, many people don’t like conflict. They run away from it; avoid it.  They handle it badly. They tolerate inappropriate behaviour because they don’t want a scene. They don’t want to upset anyone.

But what they miss out on when they avoid conflict is opportunity.

They miss the opportunity:

  • To learn more about themselves and how they deal with what might be a difficult situation
  • To learn and develop new skills
  • To learn more about their business, their staff and their industry
  • To find out more about the gaps in people’s knowledge and to understand the increased risks that the business may face as a result of the unresolved conflict
  • For innovation – because the outcome of a conflict might lead to different and new thinking about a problem
  • To do the more appropriate thing; that might be the more ethical approach

If we approach conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem; we stop being so scared of it.  We recognise that it is just information. Sometimes it is telling us that there is something wrong but it might be telling us that we are on the verge of some significant development or growth.

We can do something about a problem if we acknowledge it and find out more about what caused it. If we are curious.

But the problem will, without a shadow of a doubt, only get worse if it is ignored or played down as not being an issue.

More often than not you will discover that there is a miscommunication or that a situation has been misread. And sometimes you will decide to end a relationship (work or personal) and that’s okay too.

Don’t be afraid of conflict. Embrace it. Engage with it. Explore it. Learn from it. Manage it. And reap the incredible rewards from not feeling afraid so much of the time.

What is conflict resilience?

Conflict resilience is not the absence of conflict but the ability to manage it.

We will all be engaged in conflict throughout our lifetimes, some of us daily; some of us not so frequently but we cannot live our lives and be completely free of conflict because we are human.

We all have different values, needs and beliefs. There are not two people in the world who have the same thought at exactly the same time about the same things.

We are not robots. We will not always agree. That in itself is not a problem because important growth and development comes from discovering what you stand for and disagreeing with another person.

We have had great technological and scientific developments as a result of conflict because when we passionately hold a position we learn what stand for. We often learn a lot about the subject matter we are passionately arguing about. We become experts and our opinions matter. However these arguments are often respectful. Where all parties are heard and discussion follows due to the deep understanding the parties have about the issues.

However sometimes we are dealing with toxic conflict. When the conflict is toxic we do not deal with our differences particularly well. We tend to go into our “world of one” where we will hold on to what we believe as being right without respecting and acknowledging the other person’s point of you. It is all about us. The other person doesn’t matter.

When this occurs the conflict goes nowhere, because when two sides refuse to acknowledge the other person’s position or views then there is no scope for change, development, forgiveness or resolution.

Conflict resilience requires an awareness of our own values, our needs and how we wish to be perceived and an understanding the other people will have their own set of values, their own needs and an awareness of how they want to be perceived.  This awareness will provide an opportunity for the parties to deal with issues when they arise in a healthy fashion. They will be more respectful of each other; whilst at the same time being assertive.

Conflict resilience is developing the skills and awareness within yourself personally and in your team so you are able to do deal with any conflict situation when it arises in a healthy and respectful manner.

 

I was speaking to a new client the other day. I am going to do some work their team who have been through a lot of change in the last twelve months.  

My client asked, “how can I promote your business to my team? You have ‘conflict’ in your title. They’ll think we have a problem.”

I said, “you work in an area where there is lots of conflict. Good healthy conflict. It’s important that your staff disagree and debate and care deeply about the best way forward to deal with the issue at hand.”

Conflict is normal, inevitable and an important part of a healthy relationship. We are not robots.

Conflict ensures that we, as a society, are creative and innovative. Conflict occurs when we need to challenge behaviour that needs to be challenged.

I told my client that learning how to manage conflict does not mean you have a problem with conflict; it means that you respect how important conflict is to your organisation. That you understand and respect that in order to get the most of out of your fantastic employees, there needs to be rules and boundaries about how you conduct those robust discussions, knowing that they might get heated from time to time.

You need to know how you work as a team. You need to know each other well and high levels of trust.  You need to know what respect looks like to you as a team. You need to have some rules about how you move forward when there are high levels of disagreement about a particular issue.

To get the most out of your team, to have a team that flourishes and creates outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts; then you have to manage conflict and you have to manage it well.