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 out into flames.
The process we are going to use to identify and eliminate negative undercurrents from simmering conflict comes from the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I highly recommend it! It’s a book that can change how you view and operate in the world – which will indeed change your life. I just finished rereading it. There is a printable outline of the process that Scott calls Mineral Rights under the Free Stuff tab on my website. She calls it Mineral Rights because we are mining for information about a conflict that isn’t easy to define. There are eight steps in the process.
Step 1. Identify your most pressing issue. We can use this process to deal with any pressing issue, from buying a new house to changing hairdressers. However, 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.
Step 2. Clarify the issue. We want to ask:
- What is going on?
- How long has this been going on?
- How bad are things?
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 begin 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.
Step 3. Determine the current impact. Here are some questions to ask:
- How is this issue or situation currently impacting me?
- What results are currently being produced for me by this situation?
- How is this issue currently impacting others?
- What results are currently being produced for them by this situation?
- When I consider the impact on myself and others, what are my emotions?
In this step, we take a look 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.
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 impacting 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.
Step 4. Determine the future implications. Things to consider:
- If nothing changes, what is likely to happen?
- What’s at stake for me relative to this issue?
- What’s at stake for others?
- When I consider these possible outcomes, what are my emotions?
We want to consider what will happen if we do nothing. This is a bit of a guessing game, but you can probably come up with several possible outcomes. We also want to think about what’s at stake for us and others.
What happens if I never tell Gertrude how I feel? Well, for one thing, my resentment is going to continue to grow, and there is a good chance that I’m going to blow up at her on a bad day. Our friendship is at stake if I don’t alter the way that we interact. Poor Gertrude wouldn’t know what hit her. She doesn’t even know there is a problem.
If I continue to let her take advantage of our friendship, I will feel like a wimp who can’t stand up for myself. I will get angry at myself and Gertrude. My family will continue to suffer my dark moods over the situation.
Step 5. Identify your contribution to this issue. We want to ask:
- What is my contribution to this issue?
We want to really think about what we are doing or not doing to contribute to this issue. We may not like to examine our part and may not even be sure of how we are contributing. However, 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.
Step 6. Describe the ideal outcome. We want to consider:
- When this issue is resolved, what difference will that make?
- What results will I enjoy?
- When this issue is resolved, what results will others enjoy?
- When I imagine this resolution, what are my emotions?
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.
Step 7. Commit to action. We want to ask ourselves:
- What is the most potent step that I could take to move this issue toward resolution?
- What’s going to attempt to get in my way, and how will I get past it?
- When will I take this step?
Now we want to make plans. 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. There is an outline we can use to prepare for difficult conversations. It’s in Fierce Conversations, and it’s called the Confrontation Model. I’m not a fan of the title, but it is a very useful process for mapping out a discussion ahead of time. The Confrontation Model will be the topic of a future blog post.
So, I’m going to use the Confrontation Model to prepare for a discussion with Gertrude. I’m going to practice the conversation with my life coach. (I do that with my clients!)
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.
Step 8. Take it personally. We want to consider these questions:
- Who am I?
- What price am I willing to pay to be that?
Ultimately, everything is personal. Everything that we say and do is a reflection of our values. Step 8 is an integrity check. We want to ask ourselves if our planned actions are in alignment with our values and who we want to be.
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 using the Confrontation Model makes me feel nervous, it also is alignment with who I want to be.
There you have it! Eight steps 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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