Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

May 1, 2012

Dealing With Difficult Conflict: There Is No Opponent There

Dealing With Difficult Conflict: There Is No Opponent There


What does this quotation by Morihei Ueshiba say to you?

Opponents confront us continually, but actually there is no opponent there.

Morihei Ueshiba, 1883-1969, is the founder of Aikido, the martial art I practice, teach, and use as a aikido-the-way-of-blending-with energymetaphor in my work. Aikido -- "The Way of Blending With Energy" -- teaches us to unite with the "opponent's" energy and redirect it, keeping both defender and attacker free from harm and re-establishing harmony.

Dealing With Difficult Conflict

Lately I've had the opportunity to coach and teach about difficult conflict, the kind that's hard on body, mind and spirit, that's a shock to the system and can take time to understand and resolve.

And while I've written many articles about dealing with difficult people, difficult conflict, and suggestions for reclaiming perspective, this question about the opponent deserves a closer look.

There Is No Opponent There

If the quotation is true--there is no opponent there--then why do we continue to fight? Why do we make others the source of the problem? Ueshiba's quote suggests we are fighting something in ourselves, and when we look at that opponent, we will find solutions. For if I cannot change the other, there is only one option left.

stop-signJust STOP

Stop doing what isn't working. See a big red STOP sign in front of your face when you begin to react in ways you know don't serve you, have never served you. You don't have to have a backup plan, though it will help. Just STOP what isn't working. Something else--more useful and more intentional--will take its place.

Center Yourself

stop-and-center

I've written and taught so long on this foundational life skill, I begin to wonder: Do you want to hear it again? I look forward to your comments.

You probably know how: Stop. Breathe. Reconnect with your mind and body. Do it now, when there is no pressure. Remind yourself how easy it is:

  • Focus on an internal point about two inches below your belt buckle.
  • Breathe into that point.
  • Feel your feet on the floor.
  • Lengthen your spine and the back of your neck.
  • Relax your shoulders, jaw, and facial muscles.
  • Feel gratitude for something or someone.

Creating a Backup Plan

Recall a recent argument in which you lost control and replay the tape in your head. See yourself in your mind's eye. What happened just before you lost it? What were you feeling, thinking, hearing? And what happened just before that? Find the juncture where if you'd told yourself to STOP and center--and had actually done that--it would have changed everything.

Possible backup plans:

  • Leave. Walk out the door.centering-location-park
  • Walk around the block until you're centered and have your self back--your best self.
  • Drive safely to a centering location: park; woods; riverbank.
  • Call your friend, sister, brother, therapist.
  • Sit down with a cup of tea or a glass of lemondade--not drugs or alcohol. Your goal is acknowledging and learning from your emotions, not avoiding or drowning them.

Then What?

Are you thinking, "Now what? What do I do the next day? How do I resolve the conflict? Stopping isn't enough. Centering isn't enough. What if they don't change?"

Stopping and centering are enough.

When you stop and center, you vanquish the inner opponent. That's the only fight you can win. And when you've won that fight, you'll find you have limitless options. Options such as:

  • Talk it through. Read my "Checklist for Difficult Conversations."
  • Let it go. When you're centered, you may realize the conflict is really yours. When you stop struggling and resisting what is, the conflict goes away.
  • Leave the relationship.
  • Cope. If leaving isn't an option you choose right now, change the conversation or find other stratgies that will allow you to stay in the relationship, keep your job, or relate respectfully.

When you change, everything changes.

Unlikly-TeachersUnlikely Teachers

If we are alive, we will have conflict. And sometimes there isn't an easy answer. But there is power in asking the questions and in looking inward. Difficult people and conflict are teachers in disguise. They invite us to see things about ourselves that we've avoided or ignored.

Conflict knocks on the door until we invite her in. The longer you wait, the harder she knocks.

The theme of conflict as an Unlikely Teacher is the central premise of my book, Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict and my work. Watch for a new story from Unlikely Teachers in each Ki Moments post this spring and summer.

Your Turn

Is there really "no opponent there?" What stories can you share about how you've dealt successfully with difficult people and conflict?

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