Pursue What Matters
Episode 189: Task 1 of Conflict Management: Take Responsibility for Yourself
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Okay, here you are, you see the value of healthy conflict. Now what? Join me is I help you tackle perhaps the biggest challenge of conflict, managing yourself.
I am Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters Podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So last week, I made the case for healthy conflict. Now, that might be really great timing heading into the holidays, I hope you have a lovely peaceful holiday season. But last week, we talked about why so many of us avoid conflict, it’s a real problem. And I also introduced a mindset shift from conflict resolution to conflict transformation. So this approach can make a big difference on teams and in relationships, in terms of shifting your interaction from a tug of war from me versus you to actually a mindset of seeking understanding, addressing concerns, honestly, not papering over real issues. And so today, I’m going to help you with the first of three tasks of effective conflict management. So you know, the number number one number two concern that I see, as I work with leadership teams, is around conflict avoidance, they recognize that they avoid conflict, and they recognize that this is a real problem, but they often don’t know what to do about it. And so these podcasts are really, for anyone who feels that way, either at work or at home. And so we’re going to talk about three tasks that really help you to build confidence and competence to tackle conflict effectively. And so today, we’re going to focus on that first task of conflict management. Of course, every week with a podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence lead in one of three areas. So leading with clarity. So where are you going? And why does it matter? It’s all about purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about self awareness and self reflection, and then leading and building a community. So how do we become more effective leaders. And so today, we’re really focusing on curiosity, we’re really helping you with self awareness, for better self leadership. And then of course, leading and building a community. Because if you can’t manage yourself effectively, in conflict situations, it’s really going to be very difficult for you to be effective at work. And so this task one is take responsibility for yourself. And that seems pretty basic. But my goodness, we have a big problem with that. It’s so easy to blame other people to make them a problem to defend our position. So taking responsibility for yourself seems pretty straightforward. But we would be wrong. Managing ourselves in conflict situations, is so incredibly challenging. So as I was prepping this podcast, you know, I was just thinking about my own experience with conflict. And I remember one of the most, I think it was pretty terrifying. It was also kind of fascinating. Maybe this is the voyeuristic part of me that likes psychology. But I was in junior high. And there were two Junior High girls, they were like a year older than me. And they got in a big fight. And it was out, you know, it was outside of the building. It was still on campus. But there was probably a crowd that gathered around of like 20 to 30 people. And these girls were yelling at each other. They were screaming, they were calling each other names. And then I do think they got a little bit physical as well, which, of course is horrendous. But I remember watching that, and I was so terrified. So I was not one of the girls, I was not getting yelled at right like I was a bystander. But I was terrified. And I had a huge stress response. I still remember it. To this day, I was really scared. And I had my adrenaline really running at high capacity. I found myself really panicky, you know, it eventually settled, right? Teachers intervened. And we all you know, went to went to class, I think it was on lunch break or it was before school started. But I remember sitting in class after that and for like most, you know, for like several hours, just feeling really very anxious as a result of that experience. And so one of my personal takeaways from that situation was do whatever it takes to never be in that sort of situation. All right. So be a nice girl, right get along, get along, go along to get along, which also was not a great recipe. But I knew I didn’t want any fights like that in my life. But there were probably some conversations I needed to have, and didn’t have because of my fear of that stress response. In that moment, even though I was not the subject of the situation, right, I was just a bystander, I still had this huge stress response, that communicated to me that I wasn’t safe. And that conflict wasn’t safe. And so this brings us to our first point, which is we need to recognize the stress response, because in conflict situations, the stress response comes on very strong. It’s exactly what happened to me when I was in junior high and witnessed this fight. So when our bodies detect danger, we move very quickly to two things. So first, we move to threat assessment. And second, we move to self protection. And so there’s threat assessment, and then self protection. And it can happen in the flash of an eye. That’s, that’s what it feels like. But that threat assessment happens first. And so these two, these two tasks, right around threat assessment, and self protection, sets off a very strong stress response in our body, right, this happens via the vagal. nerve, which communicates between the brain and the body in enlightening lightning fast manner. So we have an influx of stress hormones that that course through the body to help us move quickly, we have an increased immune response to help us respond, right, we have to marshal our forces, our pupils dilate, so all of our sensories really light up so our pupils dilate, so we can really see what’s happening. Time slows down, it might also speed up, it’s a very interesting phenomenon. It’s a little bit of a dissociated experience. It meaning, right, you’re still there, but, but that the time boundaries really seem to shift. And that is functional for helping us to get through that situation. So sometimes it’s like I blinked in it, it was over. And other times, it’s like, things went really slow. And it’s so you can you can focus and act in those moments. So back to the senses, right? You’re hearing sharpens other distractions slip away. So we are very focused on the situation at hand. And in some ways, we even get tunnel vision. So we don’t really see what’s happening outside of you know that that stressor that’s that we’re facing. But it’s always important to remember that our brains while they’re really great, they are old brains in a new world. And so our brain, when we’re faced with a stressor, it’s trying to interpret the situation. And because it’s an old brain and a new world, it paints threats in in black and white, it paints threats, in broad strokes. And so there’s not much nuance to recognize that, while you may not want to have this uncomfortable conversation, it’s important to have it for the good of the team that work and the relationship, right, your old brain actually just says there’s a threat and you need to self protect, right? It doesn’t really bring in the nuance, or the rationale or objectivity to say, yeah, like, I’d rather not have this conversation, but it’s probably important that we have the conversation. And so with this first task, our job is to recognize the stress response, and to help help us manage ourselves so that we can manage that conflict more effectively. So I’ll just say a little bit more about that stress response. I’ve mentioned it a little bit. But we have increased heart rate, we have our breathing gets more shallow, which, right like alters the oxygen getting to our brain, right and to our body, we move to that tunnel vision, like I mentioned, time can slow down, we move to kind of those broad pain strokes of fight or flight response, right? Do I need to fight this person? Do I need to flee this situation? And so we really need to, to pay attention to that because our body is reacting very quickly. And our brain is making very, very quick assessments. But those assessments aren’t always accurate. And so that is the first. The first thing that we need to do when it comes to take responsibility for ourselves is to recognize that stress response in your body,
and then we move to the second point, which is lowering our physiological arousal and so When we have a stress response set off, it increases our physiological arousal, right, so we can fight or we can flee. But again, right, we’re in a new world that’s relatively safer, we’re probably, you know, not gonna get physically attacked by someone in the boardroom, if we are we got bigger problems, that becomes major HR issue. But for the good of the team, we need to find a way to stay in the room, right, both physically, but also mentally, and have the conversation. And so in order to do that, we need to lower our physiological arousal, we need to tell our brain and our body that we’re safe. And that we don’t need to fight, we don’t need to flee, we actually need to be able to pay attention, and listen and seek understanding. And so some of the best ways to lower our physiological arousal include first deep slow breathing, right, and so deep slow breathing, which is the opposite of that fast, shallow breathing that happens in the stress response, in a very real way, it communicates physiologically that you’re safe. So right, it’s communicating via that vagus nerve, that it’s okay. Like, we don’t, we don’t need, we don’t need that. That stress hormone in high gear anymore, because we’re calm, we can breathe slowly, we can take the time to breathe slowly. This helps us to think more clearly. And it helps us to see the situation more objectively, right? Because when we’re in that stress response, we’re doing that threat assessment and that self protection is all about me. Right? What we’re thinking about the threat only to the extent of our safety, right? Are you a threat to my safety. But what that means is that we see, we begin to see the situation very subjectively, when we’re in the stress response. We can also even feel paranoid, right? Like we can feel like everyone’s out to get me no one understands I’m all alone. And that is right. Those are some of your red flags that you’re seeing the situation very subjectively, and from a stress a heightened stress response. And so when we lower that physiological arousal, taking those deep, slow breaths, it helps us to actually take a step towards more objectivity. So we can see the situation we can see ourselves, we can see the other person more objectively. And this allows us to really move out of that fight or flight mode. Because right, the fight or flight mode is very binary, you have two options. And they’re both really extreme options. And so when we lower our physiological arousal, it helps us to see that we have other options, right? Okay, I can breathe, I can listen, I can maybe take some notes. And that’s helpful, right? Because it harnesses all of our skills, rather than these primitive fight or flight skills. By lowering your physiological arousal, it also communicates again, that to your brain, that your body is safe, that you can stay here that you don’t need to run away, it helps you to think more clearly. And to slow down the pace of thinking. So with a stress response, everything speeds up except time might feel like it slows down. But everything in your body really speeds up. And so with lowering physiological arousal, we think about the calming response, we think about slowing down that piece of thinking to say, I’m just going to focus on one thing at a time. And again, it helps you to bring in objectivity rather than the subjectivity of the fight or flight response. And so anything you can do to lower physiological arousal, deep breathing, I think is one of the most effective and user friendly skills because you can use it wherever you are. This is also where a mindfulness practice can be helpful. Because you don’t get so caught by that physiological arousal, you can be an observer to it, and then help yourself calm down. And so that’s our second point when it comes to, to taking responsibility for yourself. And now let’s look at the third point, which is we want to help slow down the conversation. Okay, so again, when we’re in a stress response, a heightened stress response, everything speeds up. And that includes the interactions right so if we think about my example of watching the girls in junior high five, they were like they were both of us like they were on speed and I’m pretty sure they were not, but they were yelling. It was very fast. It was a lot of staccato speech, right like yelling screaming. And so when we think about managing ourselves and helping, you know, to set up a better situation, in conversation with others, we really want to slow down the pace of the conversation. So you need to be aware of the tendency to jump in and defend your position, be aware of the tendency to interrupt, or the potential of cutting others off in conversation, which will only increase their frustration and their anger. So anything you can do to help slow yourself down, to say, You know what, I actually just need a minute to catch my breath. Like, that’s people, people usually will appreciate that because it also gives them a chance to catch their breath. And they know that like, you really do want to show up for the conversation. So you can also invite everyone to slow down, hey, can we maybe just take a step back? It sounds like there’s a lot of frustration in the room, maybe we can just take a few minutes. And and then start start again. Right? So something I might say is, I wonder if we can take a step back so that this can be a productive call. So we’re kind of reframing that we’re giving everyone permission to slow down and step back so that we can move towards some more objectivity. We also, you know, as part of slowing down the conversation, we want to focus on specific behaviors, not global indictments, right. So there’s no name calling, no blaming, no shaming, but we focus on specific behavior. So I hear you have a concern about you know, how I showed up late to the last meeting. When people hear this, they feel heard, they feel acknowledged. And so focusing on specific behaviors can be a really helpful way of slowing down that conversation, and shifting the focus. And then I think the last part of of this, when it comes to slowing down the conversation is thanking, thanking the individual for bringing up the concerns, right to say, I hear you, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, I recognize that that’s not easy. And that really, it just helps to shift the tenor of the conversation, so that the other individual, if they’re in fight or flight mode, they have an invitation to step out of that as well. So you’re communicating that you’re not a threat, that you want to understand their concerns that you’re showing up for the conversation. And so not only can slowing the conversation really help you, but it can help everyone else in that room. And so today, we talked about the first task of conflict management, which is to take responsibility for yourself. So I made the case for you know why while that sounds pretty straightforward, it can be really challenging in practice. And these are definitely practice skills that we that really do require ongoing practice. And here’s the thing, life gives us lots of opportunities to practice them. And so as we work on this first task of taking responsibility for ourselves, we need to first recognize the stress response, how does that stress response show up for you in your body? So I want you to consider that viscerally. Do you get a knot in your stomach? Does your neck get tense? Do you bloom, red in the face? So what is the stress response look and feel like in your body, and second, we want to help ourselves by lowering our physiological arousal. So we slow ourselves down, one of the best ways to do that is taking a deep, slow breaths, another really helpful skill is grounding, according to the five senses, right? So you’re paying attention to what am I seeing? What am I hearing, and it helps you to kind of get out of that vortex of your brain and your body and actually focus on the situation at hand to be able to say, Okay, I’m in the boardroom, I’m often in the boardroom, you know, my friend is sitting next to me, I’m okay, I’m safe. And that’s really the goal of lowering physiological arousal is we’re communicating to our brain and our body, that we’re safe, and that we can continue forward and have a conversation that we don’t have to fight, we don’t have to flee. And then the third component of this first task is we want to work to slow down the conversation that helps us to think more clearly and objectively. It also invites others in the room to do the same. It lets them know that we don’t want to be a threat that we’re showing up with respect. We want to give them space. And so that can be super helpful. And so I hope that this first task can be very helpful for you. This is what hijacks a lot of
a lot of difficult conversations is we have no management of ourselves. And so that leaves us in one of two situations. We avoid conflict at all costs, or we have total meltdowns. And then you know, we feel ashamed we feel badly about ourselves. Other people are like this person is hard to work with. I don’t, I don’t think I want to continue working with them. So it’s really worth our time and energy to really strengthen these skills around this first task. And then of course, I hope you’ll stay tuned, because I have two other tasks coming up. And so we’ll do a deep dive on those in the coming weeks. In the meantime, head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/189-conflictmanagementtaskone. So when we’re tying that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/189-conflictmanagementtask1/ please join me on Instagram Dr. Dot Melissa Smith. We have lots lots of great resources related to this podcast and other podcasts. And I’d love to connect with you there. What are you What are you doing? What are your leadership challenges? What do you want to hear about on the podcast? I have Dr. Melissa Smith remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai