There, I said it, the C word. Christmas.
I had hoped to avoid even thinking about it till at least November but it is not to be.
The trigger for this blog was having a friend talk to me about how much she was dreading her company’s Christmas ‘do’ because of one particular person she continually ends up arguing with. She was already anticipating the conflict.
Conflict and Christmas do seem to go hand in hand. Naturally, a lot of the difficulties people have are with their own families but increasingly, the additional stresses and pressures at Christmas seem to tip people over the edge and they can be really grumpy at work, taking out their frustrations and anxieties on their colleagues.
Here’s the interesting bit….conflict at Christmas is usually because you haven’t dealt with stuff before the fateful date. Like right now, before it gets too crazy. The same goes for conflict in the workplace; the longer you delay dealing with it, the worse it’s going to be when it does finally come out into the open.
One of the main problems with conflict is what I call the ‘festering phase’. Here’s how it works: something happens that you don’t like or upsets you. You wait for an apology or some acknowledgement that there’s a problem. You don’t say anything.
But you do fester. You replay whatever it is that happened. Over and over and over again. You think about what you did say and what you might have said. Over and over and over again. You think about what’s wrong with the other person and what they need to do to make it all all right. Over and over and over again.
The ‘festering phase’ can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to the rest of your life.
What I’m interested in is what happens in the lead up to the conflict. If that can change then you don’t have to enter a ‘festering phase’ – you might even be able to head towards a ‘resolution phase’. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Why It Happens.
In our vast experience of running Conflict Management and Assertiveness courses, we know that people fall into the same old patterns of behaviour they’ve always done (on both sides, mind you) so that the conflict becomes inevitable.
Is there one person with whom you seem to engage in conflict often? Are there types of conflict situations that repeat themselves? Once you have a good beady-eyed look, you ‘should’ be able to detect patterns. It could be anything, couldn’t it?
For instance, you say something, someone else takes offence, you try to defend yourself, the other person doesn’t want to hear your defences and you’re into conflict.
It could be someone asks you to do something, you don’t want to, they start putting pressure on you, you push back, they push back harder and you’re into conflict.
Once you can unpick the pattern, you have an opportunity to change it.
This, of course, means that one of you will have to do something different in order to break the pattern, and guess what? It’s going to have to be you if you want to at least kick-start a new way of communicating.
Obviously, I’d need about 10 blogs to really go into this in any detail, so I’ll give you one suggestion for now.
Mind-sets get us into trouble and they can equally help us get out of trouble, even before it begins. Like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog who’s dreading her company’s Christmas ‘do’, lots of us anticipate conflict – we know it’s most likely inevitable and yet we can’t see a way of avoiding it other than avoiding the situation, which isn’t going to alter anything.
Thus a change of mind-set is needed. Think of that really difficult person or scenario. Think about what rubs you up the wrong way, what do they say or do that ‘gets your goat’? I bet that even doing that might trigger an old ‘festering phase’ as you replay old conflicts.
Now see if you can identify that one point of conflict, what could be called the point of no return, the point at which you are both playing out the same old patterns of behaviour. Get really specific: what you were thinking, feeling and saying; what was the other person saying and how were they behaving?
Here’s where the shift in mind-set can happen – the bit right before the point of no return. The new mind-set that says, “Walk away now.” The mind-set that says, “How can I respond differently this time?” The mind-set that says, “I don’t have to engage in any dispute with this person. So what if they rub me up the wrong way? That’s my problem, not theirs.”
Changing a mind-set rarely happens all at once. The trick is to start anticipating potential conflict not as inevitable but as a chance for you to practise new behaviour. Rather than replaying conflict after the fact with what you could have said, start practising right now what you could say differently that will change the dynamic between you.
Have a go and you just might make life at Christmas (or any time really) a lot less fraught and a lot more peaceful.