In my last Blog I introduced the notion of:

“shifting from judgment and fear to curiosity and compassion”

This takes us back to where we left off.  It is a fundamental answer to a question we have been asking.  “How do we increase our capacity to navigate conflict?  How do we add to our toolbox of skills for dealing with conflict?”  

Adding to our toolbox is an interesting idea and appropriate at one level.  However, as we increase our understanding of the challenge, we realize that it is insufficient.

The effective engagement of conflict and successful collaboration is dependent as much on who we are committed to being in conflict as it is on what we are committed to doing.

Okay, you may be thinking, “I get the doing part.  That makes sense to me.  But what do you mean by being?  That’s a bit too abstract for me. I really can’t change who I am being.  I am who I am.”

It seems that as is true in so many of the challenges we face, the answer rests in the choices we make.  Fundamentally, success in any undertaking will be impacted by our choices.  Seems so easy.  And yet it is so hard.  At least it is for me.  We must first recognize and acknowledge the reality of personal choice.  How quickly we lose sight of this in our lives.  I know I do. 

For example, I am committed to losing a “few pounds” I gained in the past year.  I have been doing quite a bit of cycling and am committed to staying fit.  I have made some choices to increase my workout schedule and become more intentional in achieving my goal.  Good choices in alignment with my commitment.  Pretty easy choices.  

And then there is nutrition.  I realize that if I want to achieve this objective, I am facing some difficult choices in this area.  Let’s face it.  I like to eat.  I enjoy snacking.  A bowl of ice cream at the end of the day is nice and yet, I am once again faced with choices.  These choices are harder for me and yet they are in my control, nobody else’s.  I can act as if I have no choice in the matter and eat based on my feelings.  Or I can accept personal responsibility and choose based on who I am committed to being, healthy and fit.

I was recently coaching a new client on a very difficult relationship being experienced in the workplace.  This relationship has become toxic and is having a significant impact on my client’s ability to work effectively (sound familiar?).  My client has reached a point of helplessness and hopelessness in improving the situation.  The other person is not likely to change their behavior and my client is not able to demand a change.  In addition, there is really no support available from the organization.  It would seem as if there are no choices. 

As we continued the conversation, we explored options.  We agreed that if it is not possible to change the other person, we are left with changing us.  Now, you may ask, “why should your client have to change when it is the other person who is making it so difficult?”  The simple answer is, “they don’t have to change”.  And yet, what is the outcome.  Things will most likely remain the same.

As we continued the conversation, we shifted our focus on who my client was choosing to be in relationship to the conflict.  By accepting hopelessness, they were experiencing a sense of helplessness.  They were agreeing to live and operate within the relationship as the other person was defining it.  The question and challenge became:

How will I change who I choose to be in the situation?

As the conversation moved in this direction, possibilities began to emerge.  My client began to realize that they would clarify expectations for how they would choose to be in the relationship.  They would share these expectations and begin to establish boundaries in the relationship.  This is a beginning. This is not a resolution of the conflict but a fundamentally different strategy for engagement.  This shift in orientation from simply doing to being opens a very different set of possibilities.  We ended the conversation having shifted from helplessness and hopelessness to hopefulness.