Opinion: What do you do when you think of conflict?

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Ever watch that episode of “The Office” where Michael decides to teach his staff about conflict resolution? As a human resources professional and conflict coach watching that, I was both gasping and guffawing at the same time. Of all the people to attempt it, there’s the manager modeling just how NOT to attempt to resolve conflict. At one point, he basically compares conflict to a “shiatsu massage, where they dig into your body, very hard. And it is very painful. And apparently, some people throw up. But the next day, they feel great.”

Most of us hate that poke-in-the-eye feeling when addressing conflict. Even though I teach conflict transformation for a living, I still get nervous with my own conflicts, as we all do. As my mentor says, that’s why they call it being a “practitioner.” It continues to take practice for all of us. So, what is it that makes us go crazy when we get into conflict? Or for some, even when we get near it.

For some of us, it may actually be a physical reaction to protect us from harm. That’s a whole course of protection techniques just in itself. For others, it might be the fear of losing the argument or appearing to be incorrect, wrong, or “found out.”

But for the majority of us, we become hesitant to dig into our conflict because either we don’t have the tools to resolve it or we’re afraid of hurting (or losing) our relationships around it. But shouldn’t we be able to do both? Conflict management is about solving problems AND building relationships. What good is problem resolution if we can’t maintain the relationship?

When I was in the state Senate, I was often at odds with one of my colleagues across the aisle. Many times, he and I were diametrically opposed philosophically. However, over time, there were many occasions when we would come together and collaborate on legislation successfully. Throughout the years, we became friends and assured each other that no matter our policy differences (and sometimes heated debates on the floor), we would always respect one another and sustain our friendship. We remain friends to this day.

As we recognize October as Conflict Resolution Month in Colorado, I entreat you to perhaps imagine that the conflicts in your life could be approached as just solving a problem and building a relationship. Is there a way to do both? Admittedly, some conflicts may need a stiff drink of coffee, a suite of calming techniques, or even a court-ordered mediator. And yes, some conflicts may be too dangerous to attempt to manage on our own. But the majority of them are possible to wade through and get to the other side. Will you throw up, as Michael claims? Maybe. But you’ll feel great the next day!

For information on Conflict Resolution Month in Colorado, you can go to: conflictresolutionmonth.org.

Or, for training, coaching, or facilitating conflict, feel free to reach out to me for a resource relevant for you. The reward of feeling more peace in our lives, especially right now, is well worth the practice.

Former Colorado state Senator, now with a master’s in Social Justice and Ethics from Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a writer, instructor, facilitator, and conflict coach. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.

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