Overcoming Conflict

I was recently coaching one of my clients through a conflict and as we explored ways to overcome the conflict, they drew an image that beautifully represented our conversation. So I asked if I could share it with you all and they very courteously said yes.


All of us have roles in the world.


The first thing to do here is separate our roles (what we do) and who we are as a person. Some of the roles we play in the world might be boss, manager, brother, sister, daughter, mother or father. This is very different to who you are; an organiser, a supporter, a healer, a creator, a disruptor, a lover or a fighter. Finally, we want to separate the behaviour that person betrays. For example, Jack is a Director (role) who is passionate about supporting young leaders (person) and is often critical (behaviour) in meetings.

If Jacks criticism becomes too much, it may become an area of conflict. Language used to describe Jack might be ‘he is always criticising’, ‘he is so negative’ or ‘he never notices anything that I do well’. Over time Jack and critical become synonymous. During conflicts his behaviour isn’t separated from him as a whole person. This can have quite devastating consequences. Commonly this is done with people suffering from addictions, they are described through their behaviour as if it were who they are i.e Susan is an alcoholic. Actually, Susan is many things one of her behaviours is excess drinking.

A beautiful example I recently heard was from a dear friend of mine during the grief of her father. He had been absent for many years of her life, during which time her mother would not speak about him at all. As he was transitioning, the family came together around him and over the weeks shared stories of his life - the good and the bad. He moved from being the man who left, to that and many more things, including a sportsman, a loving father and a grandfather. For years his behaviour of leaving the family had been the only focus point and created a lot of conflict between himself and his family. During his death, they remembered much more about who he was and they separated his action of leaving (his behaviour) with who he was as a person.

During conflict we often collapse the person (who people are), their role (what they do) and their behaviour (how did they act). If we can separate these then we can change the behaviour without trying to change the person. We can also see the person’s behaviour as unacceptable but without seeing them as unacceptable.

If we can take the time to separate what is the behaviour that is causing distress, with who they are as a whole person we can deal with the conflict much more articulately.

I’d invite you to think of a relationship in your life that is causing you some problems. Now separate them using the model - the person, their role and their behaviour. From here see if you have some more insight as to what you would like to change to help move your relationship forward.  TIP:  Look for a behaviour to develop rather than something to stop. For example, with Jack and his criticism, we could ask Jack to look for something positive 3 times a day rather than asking him to stop criticising things. This way he has a focus of what to work on.

If you would like to watch an extreme example of this, please follow the link. It is about a woman who forgives the man that killed her daughter and granddaughter. This really is the absolute essence of separating a person from their behaviour.

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