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4 Steps to Developing a Conflict Resilient Mindset

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Years ago, Michelangelo’s neighbour was sitting on his front porch swing and observed Michelangelo rolling a rugged boulder up the street and onto his front porch. He took out his hammer and chisel and began to pound away at the boulder. The neighbour, thinking the man had lost his mind, crossed the street and and said, “Hey Mick, what are you doing hammering on that boulder?” To which Michelangelo responded, “There’s an angel inside and I’m trying to let it out!”

Why is it that some people see the boulder while others see the angel? Why is it that when we are in conflict situations we approach these situations from a place of judgement? It’s not uncommon for me to sit down with the two parties in conflict and hear the people say about one another, “They’re being completely unreasonable!” When we are in conflict with one another, it’s easy for us to see that other person as a boulder. We look at the other person and all we see is their complaints, how their actions have affected us, the pieces of that person that we find repulsive. We’ve all been there at one time or another. The challenge of course is this – How do we see the angel in the boulder?

For this to happen, we need to develop a conflict resilient mindset. We need view the boulder through the lens of curiosity rather than judgement. Viktor Frankl once said,

“Between a stimulus and a response there is space. In that space is the power to choose our response.”

That space is where we make the choice of reacting out of a place of judgement or curiosity. In that moment, we rely on our mindset to inform which of these two response options we will choose. The choice we make will influence the outcome of that particular situation. Here are 4 ways that we can start forming a conflict resilient mindset.

Know Your Triggers – Think about the last time you got a little hot under the collar. When your hot buttons were being pressed, what did that feel like physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Take note of what those triggers felt like and start taking actions to channel them in a healthier direction. If you’re like me, you start to feel some tingling in the joints of your fingers. For me to channel that energy, I quickly focus for a moment on my breath to remind myself to get curious.

Get comfortably uncomfortable – When we’re in the middle of our comfort zone, any challenge that is lobbed at us gives us a feeling of anxiety. We know that challenge is going to force us to be uncomfortable, so we tend to flee or freeze. If we can allow ourselves to become comfortable with being at the edge of our comfort zone, we will be less threatened by these challenges because we’re already stretching ourselves. Sometimes, when we feel that threat of running or freezing from a challenge, it can be important for us to ask ourselves three questions:

1. What happens if I’m successful in navigating this situation?
2. What happens if I fail? How will I pick myself back up?
3. What happens if I do nothing?

Typically, if we’re honest in our answers, we’ll find the third question the scariest of all.

Surround yourself with the right people – If you were to take a look at the people that you talk with most regularly, you’ll likely see a pattern. There’s an old computer term called GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. Who you surround yourself with will have a huge impact on how you react to situations.

Baby steps – A huge mistake that we often make when trying to make a change in our life is setting goals that are too big. Every year, on the 1st of January, millions of people set massive life goals for the year. One of the most common goals that I hear is folks that make the sweeping statement that this is the year that they’re going to get fit. What does being fit mean to them? Getting that gym membership and working out 4 times every week. They’ll likely hit their goal the first couple of weeks, but then life gets in the way. Pretty soon, they’re giving their gym a “charitable” donation every month and not stepping foot in the place. Why? Because they’ve told themselves that if they don’t do their goal every single week, then they’re failing. And when we feel that way, we stop trying and avoid the challenge because we can’t measure up to our own goals. What would it look like to take baby steps though? Maybe it’s setting more realistic goals and taking baby steps to achieve them. Maybe instead of claiming that we’re going to be able to do a marathon by the end of the year, we start with a goal of being able to run/walk a 5k? By taking smaller steps, we start to shift our current mindset. We start to notice that we can walk 5k, and then we take the challenge farther and start running for part of the journey. Before we know it, we’ve run our 5k and we’re now taking strides towards 10k. So what do baby steps look like for conflict?

Jason Dykstra

Jason is in the business of helping organizations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He has particular skills in communication systems, organizational culture and leadership development.

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