(This post is adapted from my book, Turn Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace.
Have you ever tried to resolve a conflict where one of the parties wasn't all that interested in resolution? Recall one where you were that party.
Perhaps you acted as if you wanted to find resolution and said all the right things:
- “Let’s find a way to move forward”
- “I know we can work this out.”
Maybe you did your best to adopt an inquiring stance, saying things like,
- “Please tell me how you see it.”
But nothing seemed to work because you weren’t really that interested if it meant you had to change—and so you didn’t commit to the process.
Most of us are tuned to the world’s most popular radio station: WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? When you’re tuned to this internal channel, you’re fixated on questions such as:
- “Why should I try and work this out—go through the hassle, heartache, and headache when I’d rather not deal with it?
- “What if the situation gets worse?”
- “What if we're able to resolve it? What would that look like? What if we’re not?”
Shift from Resistance to Connection
We often hear it said that we cannot control others, and for the most part, this is true. We cannot force others to change. But, because we’re in relationship with them, they will be affected by our choices.
One of the reasons we resist change is because we think it means something about us is wrong, and we don’t like to be wrong. As much as we might want to resolve the conflict, there are often hidden objectives:
- When the choice seems to be about being right or wrong, I prefer being right.
- If working on the conflict means looking at my contribution to it, I’d rather take a pass.
- While resolution would seem to make life easier, there are benefits to the status quo, e.g., I feel superior in my “rightness” or I like playing the victim card.
In aikido practice, we learn quickly that the feeling of resistance from my partner equates with ineffective technique. When aikido is done well, it flows. Power transfers effortlessly back and forth.
But flow doesn’t always happen. Sometimes my partner is resistant, making the technique more difficult. And the more my partner stiffens, the tighter I become, especially as I attempt to “correct” them. They’re not doing it right! If they’d only loosen up a little, they could feel what I want!
As an aikidoist I’m forced to ask if my partner’s tension is in response to me? What if he thinks I’m resistant! In life, for example, have you ever complained about someone, saying, “I can’t believe how defensive they are. All I get is pushback!” You learn in aikido that resistance doesn’t cause itself. Perhaps the other person is saying the same about you!
The good news is, if I relax, my partner will, too.
Because of the depth of the connection between us, it only takes one of us to make a change that both of us experience.
We receive so much reinforcement for being on the right side of an issue that we’ll do almost anything to stay there. In her book Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares compelling research showing that when we win an argument, our brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as adrenaline and dopamine. We can become addicted to this feeling and actually seek out conflict, because when I win, I feel content, glad, and cheerful.
Fortunately, the brain also releases oxytocin, another feel-good chemical that is associated with human connection. We can leverage this feeling state, too, by listening, acknowledging, and having empathy for others. Likewise, the more we have our words acknowledged, the more we want to offer these feelings in return.
So, how do I see the addiction to being right for what it is and move toward relationship—even in situations in which I am right? How do I move from resistance to connection?
Resistant Versus Connecting Language
In conflict, the predominant story people hold is that everything would be great if the other person were different. Yet… when our well-being is dependent on someone else behaving in a certain way, we are hostage to things we have no control over. We lose power and waste energy.
In aikido, we learn this concept in physical ways. The harder I push, the harder my partner pushes back. So I move myself out of the way, blend with the push and redirect it. There’s no resistance because I’m no longer there to push against.
The act of moving myself instead of forcing another is as counterintuitive on the mat as it is in life. It feels like I’m giving away an advantage, whereas the opposite is true. I gain a lot when I move my position in order to see more clearly.
In life, I do this when I invite my conflict partner to tell me more about their thinking on a topic I may feel very differently about.
Resistance sounds like, “Yeah, but ….” or “No, you don’t understand.” Connection sounds like, “Can you say more about your thinking on this?”
Ask yourself, what kind of language is more likely to solve the problem?
Examples of Resistant Versus Connecting Language
- “Yeah, but …. “
- “No, you don’t understand!”
- “That won’t work.”
- “That’s ridiculous!”
- “Can you say more?”
- “Please help me understand.”
- “I’m not sure I agree. I’d like to hear your reasons.”
- “I’m curious; why do you think so?”
What “unresolvable conflict” are you struggling with? What is your contribution to the standoff? And how will you change yourself in order to increase understanding, connection, and... power?
You have more power than you think. When you change, everything changes.