Moving into the Conflict Zone

I've learned that moving into conflict is much safer than away

The most important thing I’ve learned about conflict is that it’s much safer to more toward it than away ~ @mikhaill.

I’m very skilled at dealing with conflict, I’ll admit it. I freeze perfectly. Then I shuttle back and forth stepping away from the conflict, spinning round and heading back in.

And then I saw the tweet above from psychology professor Mikhail Lyubansky which stopped me in my tracks. He makes it sound easy, and yet it takes something really powerful: curiosity. In bucket-loads.

And it works.

My wife and I have arguments. Boy, do we have arguments. And over the years my tendency has been to lunge in, make my point and flee, then re-group and repeat the lunge again.

Then one day, the argument was going so completely wrong that some drastic measure had to be taken; repeating the same ineffective behaviour would be madness, so — despite moving into conflict seeming close to suicidal — I decided to drink the curious potion.

I stepped back in front of my wife and got curious: I watched the space around, I felt out into the air humming with hurt and anger, and I listened with my body to that space. Rather than focus on her, I focused around her and between us.

And something very unexpected happened: I could hear her far more clearly. I had previously been at the end of a shotgun barrel of bitter, furious energy, and had done everything I could to protect myself from it (by shouting back, storming off, etc). The statements that had been laden with stings became a message and plea for help. I could hear what she was saying and what she was not saying, and I was curious.

As she spoke, I repeated the questions: “and what else? is there any more?”, and it had the effect of drawing the poison. More and more came out, fast at first, then slowing, then a trickle, until finally she calmly said “no, that’s all”.

And there we were, connected by the space between us, me having listened to her and heard far more than I’d ever done before, she having the satisfaction of being properly listened to.

This stretched me further than I was comfortable with, and rewarded me far beyond my expectations.

If moving into conflict sounds like a stretch for you, too, you might like to spend some time with me studying ways to become more effective at listening. I offer group and one-to-one coaching in Leadership Embodiment which uses the body to deepen your capacity to listen without taking the message personally. Contact me to book a free, no-obligation consultation. I’d love to help you get more at ease with sticking with difficult conversations, and see what changes occur.