“We Teach People How To Treat Us”
~ Dr. Phil
Last week, as I was preparing an outline for a workshop on conflict resolution, I found the task of condensing my full day program into a 90 minute format somewhat challenging. It was an interesting exercise though, in that it required narrowing my talk down to one premise and only a few key points.
“We have 90 minutes to cover a topic we could probably talk about for ninety days”, I said jokingly. The audience laughed, and also seemed to agree.
“Conflict resolution is a multi-faceted subject” I continued, “yet, after giving it a lot of thought, I believe it boils down to just a few things.”
“First, we need to know how to calm ourselves down. Secondly, we need to learn to identify – and speak intelligently about – our unmet needs. (This is truly at the heart of every conflict.) And, lastly, if we want to create mutually satisfying solutions, we need to demonstrate that we care about other people’s feelings and needs.”
“The bottom line,” I emphasized, “is that conflict resolution is an inside job. If we want our relationships to improve, we have to stop focusing on changing others. We need to work on ourselves first. We have to change.”
I noticed several people nodding their heads in agreement, a number of others taking notes and few who looked puzzled by what I’d said.
“You mean to say that my coworker isn’t driving me crazy?” one individual asked. “That’s right!” I said laughing. “That person’s behavior has the potential to make you feel crazed, yet whether you get upset or not is entirely up to you.”
The group seemed relieved to learn that resolving conflict didn’t have to be so complicated and – judging from their questions and comments – eager to take on the challenge of changing themselves.
We spent the rest of the time openly sharing experiences, talking about how to calm down, unhook emotionally, and consider everyone’s feelings and needs. When it came to the discussion of taking ownership, however, some admitted that was the hardest step.
Many said that acknowledging that “the ball is in our court” to do something about other people’s behavior, was challenging. It meant having to look closely and honestly at what we’ve done to reinforce, edit or allow any undesirable behavior to happen – and continue – in the first place.
It’s no wonder this idea is often met with resistance.
It also means giving up judging, blaming and criticizing others when things aren’t going our way.
While most agreed this pattern can be difficult to break, everyone said the payoff was worth it.
They could see that – once we get past the fear and doubt and come from a position of strength – the chances of getting our needs met greatly increase. Also, the dream of creating healthy, high functioning relationships could possibly be realized, too.
These were stretch goals most everyone wanted to meet.
A little bit of enlightened self-interest can be a strong motivator, we concluded. This philosophy – combined with a genuine desire to restore harmony and create peace – was in everyone’s best interest.
“Any added bonus?” I asked? “Yes!” Someone shouted, “We all get to feel a little less crazed.”
This month’s practice:
Regardless of the situation, there are only two psychological ways of dealing with conflict: we can either be reactive or responsive. One choice tends to have a negative impact on relationships; the other, a positive one.
Because when we’re in reactive mode, our emotions are driving the show. Think of the last time you felt highly emotional: How intelligent or skillful did you feel? What kind of results did you create?
When we’re upset, it’s hard to achieve a positive outcome because our judgment typically goes out the window. Along with that, so do our chances of creating a win, win.
A responsive mode calls for greater skill. It also requires a commitment and a willingness to pay close attention.
The next time you experience conflict stop, look and think about what’s happening:
• What feelings and thoughts are present?
• What’s needed right now?
• Is my behavior in line with my values?
Then ask yourself:
• What am I teaching others about the kind of relationships I want?
• What would I prefer?
• Am I willing to change in order to get my needs met?
• Am I willing to choose from a place of faith rather than fear?
• Can I act more intentionally?
If you want people to behave differently, or treat you respectfully, this process of self-examination will help you discover the next steps to take.
Plus, becoming aware of our own – and others’ experience – greatly increase the odds that everyone’s needs will be met. That may be incentive enough to move from a reactive to a responsive state.
Remember: What you allow, you teach.
Perhaps it’s time to provide different instructions!
Conflict Resolution Program
on Audio CD