We tend to think that yelling and arguing are an intrinsic part of conflict. They certainly can be, despite our best efforts. However, conflict can also be like a low-grade fever – a simmering disagreement that saps our energy and uses vital emotional energy.
When I coach people, I like to start off by eliminating as many energy drains as possible. Energy drains can be clutter, toxic relationships, a leaky toilet, disorganization, work we don’t like, and smoldering disagreements that never burst into flames.
The first step is to identify the simmering conflict. What specifically is bothering you and why? We want to do some soul searching to uncover conflicts that are draining our energy and joy.
Think about your days. When does your stomach clench? When do you feel your shoulders tighten? What tasks do you dread? What people do you wish you could avoid? Why?
As an example, let’s say that I have a friend who calls to complain about her life and never listens to what I have to say. I am irritated before, during, and after our conversations. In this example, it’s a conflict that the other person does not know about. The friend is happy as a clam to unload on me and move on. There is a discussion that I need to have that I am avoiding.
Next, we want to dive into the situation and figure out why it bothers us. In this step, we want to get a clear picture of the issue. Sometimes in thinking about a situation, there is more than one issue to deal with. We want to untangle the threads and focus on the one thing that is going to improve the quality of our lives.
In our example, let’s say that this is a relatively new friendship with a woman named Gertrude. We met at our children’s soccer game. We went out to lunch a couple of times, and then Gertrude began to call to chat. Gradually the chatting turned into complaining. Although Gertrude likes to talk, she does not like to listen. She has a negative view of most people and situations. She is also a victim. Everything is always someone else’s fault.
Generally we are triggered by things that are not in alignment with our values. If I believe that positivity is important, Gertrude is messing with my mental state. If I believe that it’s important to act and change a situation that you do not like, Gertrude’s victimhood is especially annoying.
We can do a cost v. benefit analysis by looking at all the ways that this situation is impacting us and anyone else. There can be positive impacts, and we want to consider those, too.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How is this issue or situation affecting me?
- Is the situation affecting others?
- What results are currently being produced for each of us affected by the situation?
- What are my emotions when I consider the impact of the situation?
In our example with Gertrude, I spend time dreading her call, suffering through the call, and stewing about the call when it’s done. This relationship is toxic for me in its current form.
It’s taking time away from the other things that I want to accomplish. I am often in a bad mood when I deal with my family. I am resentful and angry. I feel that I am being taken advantage of. It’s a one-sided relationship that doesn’t give me much benefit.
If I think of how it’s affecting Gertrude, I am helping her stay in the same victim mentality by not speaking up. She is upset about something, vents to me, feels better, and moves on without taking any action to improve the situation. I am not helping her.
In addition to considering the costs and benefits, I want to ask myself how I am contributing to this situation. It’s important to really think about what we are doing or not doing to contribute to this issue. If we do a major gut-check, we often can unearth some underlying causes that we own.
In our example, I am not setting proper boundaries with Gertrude, and it’s not healthy for me or her. My contribution has been inaction. I haven’t told Gertrude how I feel so that she has a chance to react or change. I am allowing a one-sided relationship to continue.
So, we’ve determined what we don’t like and don’t want. Now we want to uncover the dream behind the complaint. What do we want?
This is my favorite part. I love dreaming up best-case scenarios! We want to imagine a clear image of what we want and then check in with our emotions about that outcome. Then we want to consider how that outcome will affect others.
In our Gertrude example, I could imagine a life without Gertrude. I could just fade away from her life and become less and less available. It comes down to whether or not I believe that Gertrude’s friendship could be valuable and enjoyable. I need to ask myself if I’d miss her.
I’m going to say that in this made-up world with my made-up friend, I think I want to try and save the relationship. I want to sit down and talk with Gertrude about how I feel. It could make our relationship stronger in the end. We do have some fun times together.
Now that we have a clear picture of the situation and what we want to create, it’s time to take action. In the usual strategic planning way, we want to know who is going to do what by when. We also want to think about obstacles that could get in our way.
I am going to talk with Gertrude. It could be a difficult conversation, but I think that our relationship is worth the risk and the effort. I want to practice what I want to say. An outline for a good way to open the conversation is here. I often role-play with my coaching clients so that they have a chance to practice and clarify their message.
When considering obstacles, I could be the main obstacle – that is, my fear of confrontation. In this made-up scenario, I don’t like it when people get upset. I am going to invite Gertrude to lunch next Thursday, and I will talk with her then.
Whatever action we take must be in alignment with our values. In our example, I am not the kind of person who would distance myself from Gertrude and leave her wondering what happened. That feels icky to me. Although talking with her makes me feel nervous, it also is in alignment with who I want to be.
There you have it! A simple process to help you gain emotional freedom and authenticity! Many energy drains require confrontation and resolution. Sometimes the conflict is with ourselves, but many times it involves addressing a situation that we’d rather avoid. Keep in mind that the short-term discomfort of a tense conversation is much better than a simmering conflict that would drain your energy for the rest of your life.
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