One of the activities that I have continuously enjoyed over the years is cycling. Last year I got a bit more serious and started spinning at my gym in preparation for three big rides to be completed over the summer of 2013. Given how much I enjoyed these workouts and the rides, and the caliber of my fellow riders, I upped my commitment and joined the Power Barn. “The Barn” is a local training space that caters to a range of athletes committed to increasing their fitness. This includes mostly cyclists, runners and triathletes.
The training protocol for cyclists is based on your Functional Threshold of Power (FTP) determined by having you ride as hard and fast as you can for 20 minutes. This definitely takes you way outside your comfort zone. The training regimen, based on this assessment, is then designed to increase your FTP. So where am I going with this and what does this have to with conflict?
The other night, following a day in the office, I was at the Barn, on my bike and starting the first 20-minute segment of my ride. I settled into my cadence, closed my eyes, and looked for that “zone” in which to sustain my effort. I was aware of my breathing and my form, making adjustments in each. It was at this moment that I began to reflect on where I was and what I was doing. Here is what was going through my mind:
- Why am I here? Because I want to become a more competitive rider.
- Am I having fun? Well, yes and no.
- Am I comfortable? Not really.
- Do I want to quit? No, not now but I am aware that I will reach a point at which I will most likely want to.
- Am I outside my comfort zone? Yeah, somewhat.
- Am I here by choice? Absolutely!
- Why? Because what I am looking for (increased fitness) is outside my current comfort zone.
I became acutely aware, at that moment, of that fact that the challenge for me was, and is, both mental and physical. At the same time I became aware of the similarities of this challenge to the challenge of learning to be with, and to effectively engage, conflict. Here’s how the dots connected for me.
As a cyclist, the training protocol is intentionally designed to have me train somewhat outside my physical comfort zone so as steadily increase my FTP. The computer that is connected to my bike monitors my power output and automatically adjusts as needed. Over time I practice being with this experience so as to bring it into my comfort zone. As riders we have talked about how at times we feel up to the challenge and finish the training protocol feeling great. At other times we end the regimen totally drained. And yet, over time, we experience an increased capacity to be with this challenge, as demonstrated at the next time we test. My increase in FTP is built on my commitment to working outside my comfort zone on a regular and intentional basis.
As I continued my ride that night my thinking shifted to the relationship of this workout to the challenge of learning to be with conflict. If you have followed my recent posts you will recognize that this “challenge” has also captured my attention. As a “Conflict Engagement Specialist” I have come recognize that some of the conflict in which I am asked to become involved is not resolvable in the traditional sense of the word. In the context of the model introduced by Mayer (2009) these conflicts are “stubborn” or “enduring” in nature. At the same time they cannot be avoided. They must be intentionally and strategically engaged over time as the parties learn to be with the on-going conflict.
I recently began offering a seminar entitled, Redefining Your Relationship to Conflict, in which participants begin to deconstruct what are often negative stories about conflict. Participants identify the ways in which their current relationship to conflict does not always serve them in the context of these stubborn or enduring conflicts. They recognize that their desire to fix or manage the conflict will not make it “go away”. We seek to reconstruct a story in which we choose to confidently engage conflict in search of the possibilities that exist.
Improving our capacity to be with conflict is very similar to increasing our abilities in most anything. Change and improvement occurs incrementally. It starts by choosing to engage the challenge somewhat outside your comfort zone. The descriptor “somewhat” is important here. If I train significantly outside my comfort zone physically, I risk injury. By the same token, when I engage conflict that is way outside my comfort zone, I find myself overwhelmed by the sense of risk.
Increasing confidence and effectiveness in the context of conflict is built on regularly choosing engagement over avoidance. It requires the commitment and the choice to do that which you typically do not want to do. It is a decision. So the next time you find yourself facing stubborn conflict, consider the following questions. Here is one way you might choose to respond.
- Why am I here? The challenge we are facing is significant and I am committed to maintaining our joint efforts.
- Am I having fun? Well, yes and no. The conversation is challenging because the stakes are high and feelings run deep. Conflict is not something I typically experience as “fun”. And yet, at the same time it is stimulating to challenge my thinking and consider other possibilities.
- Am I comfortable? Not really. This is taking a lot of effort to manage myself when listening to perspectives with which I often strongly disagree.
- Do I want to quit? Well, yes. In some ways I would just as soon not be having this conversation. At the same time I am committed to engaging this issue. It is essential to our future success.
- Am I outside my comfort zone? Yeah, somewhat. I don’t want to make things worse. I have struggled in the past with my own effectiveness when taking on conflict.
- Am I here by choice? Yes! I have weighed the options, spent time in preparation, and I am committed to being in this conversation.
- Why? Because what we are looking for (a way to navigate this stubborn conflict) is outside our current comfort zone. We have to start engaging these challenges differently. Might as well start now.