I recently had a call from a coaching client, Diane, who was beyond annoyed. She thought she had “this conflict thing” handled, in the bag, never to upset her ever again.
She had done so much work on constructive ways to respond to those who pressed her buttons. She loved being in the safe stress zone at work. That was until last week. “What a bummer” she repeated over and over as we talked; all the coaching, the leadership development program, all her learning had fallen by the wayside.
When she found out that Janice was taking undeserved credit for a project that Diane had specifically given to another of her direct reports, she saw red. She seethed, had ugly dreams of revenge, and wanted to go for an eye for an eye.
As we talked the anger got worse and worse. What was really going on? I asked Diane to do a quick process she had learned in “Total Leadership Connections”. At first Diane was reticent. “I’ve done it all already and there is nothing else from my past that will show up.”
Persistence on my part eventually won and Diane did the following (a process you can do when you see red, or purple, or bright white stars of annoyance with a conflict situation).
Close your eyes and see the upsetting situation in your mind’s eye. Now put your hand on the part of the body that feels the upset and anger. It is usually around the heart, solar plexus or stomach area. Take a deep breath and let yourself go back to an earlier time when you had that feeling. Sit with the memory and especially with the person who caused you the upset. This will give you a major clue about how to handle the present annoying situation. Usually there is an “aha” moment and by connecting the dots of past and present you are in a better position to handle the conflict in the present time.
Here is what happened with Diane: She remembered the summer when she was fourteen and had gone to overnight camp. The creative team she was on came up with a song for their competition and she had come up with most of the clever ideas and even the words for the chorus that everyone loved.
After they won another girl in her bunk took all the credit and when Diane spoke up her counselor called her aside and told her she was a poor team player and a spoil sport. Diane protested. She was unwilling to sit by and let this mean girl get away with it. However, justice did not prevail. In fact, Diane was called into the head counselor’s office and berated for her poor behavior.
Now, decades later, Diane had an opportunity to right the wrong of the past. She did so by having both women join her in a meeting and what she did was tell her story and then ask them to think about the present situation and decide the best way to handle it.
By expressing her emotions in an open and honest way she gave safe space for the others to see the situation from a new vantage point. Lesson learned: by cooling down, sitting down, and slowing down it is often possible to resolve conflicts without an “in your face” confrontation and then everyone wins.