Facing The Conflict Monster

“Knowing I’m a weak person, my mom advised me that whenever I felt scared or fearful, that’s exactly the right moment to jump in head first to face the monster by looking him in the eye. And I’ve found that when I get that close to the “monster”, I stop being afraid because I lose perspective and see only the details instead of the monster itself. If I hadn’t been taught this lesson. I think I would never of left my house since I’m scared of everything and anything.” (Canadian author Kim Thúy‘s response to:”What’s the best advice you ever received?“, in a recent Globe and Mail interview.)

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In many ways, I feel Kim’s experience has been my experience, too. Not being a poster child for risk-taking, I have a history of conflict avoidance. Wrestling with that, I have personally found that facing the monster, no matter how many heads it has, to be a useful antidote. Whether by accident or intention, when I’ve faced the monster, on whole, I’ve come out ahead. (The psychology of why I, a conflict avoider, have chosen a mantle of conflict resolver, is a story for another day.)

Lost and found in the details

As a mediator, I find it too easy to get lost in the details of a conflict; who said what? when did ‘x’ happen? what happened then? etc… It can feel like quicksand. The conflict avoider in me says step back, talk stock, and propose a solution, as the way forward. End that conflict. Now!

Conflict, like most things involving people, though, tends to be messy. The way forward is often in the details. Through a common understanding of the details, or even a single detail, the way forward often reveals itself, without my intervention, or limited clairvoyant abilities. Immersing in the detail is to let go of outcomes and revel in the moment.

Negotiators of all sorts understand this. Harvard types know this. Heck, even golfers know this. Small victories, gained by paying attention to detail and process, can lead to bigger success.

The yin yang of details is that we can both get lost in them, and find our way through them. Chaos and order are two heads of the same coin.

Hanging on to perspective

We still want to hold perspectve. We want to keep both perspective and details in mind. After all, if it is an actual dragon you face, ignoring that fact could be more than eventful.

What did your mother tell you about conflict?


Image source: John Roberts on Flickr

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