Monday, March 19, 2012

Let go of assumptions the other is the problem in conflicts
Stress for Success
March 20, 2012

When involved in a conflict, and you’re convinced the other person is wrong, might you also be partly wrong, too, without realizing it?

It’s near-universal in conflicts that we see the other as the cause of the problem. If they’d just change in some way the problem would be solved.

Is there something wrong with this?

Expecting others to change becomes a stressor in itself since you have no control over anyone but yourself. In hundreds of my programs over the years many women (mostly) have talked to me about their conflicts. In describing their disagreement their focus is almost completely on what the other person did, how wrong it is and what they should do to fix the problem. Virtually every woman was convinced she was right.

What they fail to realize is focusing their frustrated energy on anything beyond their control increases their stress. There’s no solution for them as long as they remain focused on the other person.

The first red flag indicating you’re more a part of the conflict than you realize, is when thinking about and talking to others about your conflict you talk almost obsessively about what the other person is doing. Since you’ll find no solutions in this approach, always ask yourself instead, “What are my options in responding to this person,” which is within your control.

Additionally, whoever wants a different outcome in a situation is the person who must change their approach versus expecting the other person to change. The person you’re frustrated with may have no idea you’re upset. They merrily go through their day as you seethe. And stew.

Another important red flag that you’re more part of the problem than you realize is in assuming the other person is at fault and you negatively label what they’re doing as unfair, ignorant, lazy, arrogant, oblivious, etc. These negative judgments - negative adjectives - are opinions, not facts, convinced as you probably are that you’re being accurate.

To reduce your own complicity in conflicts, become consciously aware when you negatively label another person. Listen for your negative adjectives in describing them. Each time you hear yourself think or utter negative adjectives, force yourself to identify the other’s behavior that triggered your negative judgment. Simplifying it this way allows you to determine if their behavior is worth your energy to assertively confront.

My favorite example comes from a workshop attendee. She described her arrogant (negative judgment/adjective) colleague. The only arrogant behavior she could identify was his habit of raising an eyebrow occasionally when she gave ideas. She decided this was not worthy of her upset. Had she decided it was worth her energy, she could speak to him about his tendency to raise an eyebrow (behavior) and her interpretation of its meaning but say nothing about her judgment (arrogant) of it.

Insisting on focusing on how wrong the other person is keeps you stuck. Focusing on their “negative” behavior allows new options of how to respond to open up to you, reducing your stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at