The Inside Story of Conflict
“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.”
- Cheryl Richardson
It seems counterintuitive that facing conflict is a method for maintaining inner peace. All outward conflict with others starts as a war inside the self. On one end of the battlefield is the way things are, and on the other end lies the way we want things to be. The process of continuously organizing as couples, families, communities, groups, teams, companies… by its very nature, ensures that things which are not aligned will bump into each other.
The moment conflict leaves the inner world, and moves to the outer world is the critical moment from which either destruction or creation will spring.
Growing an ability to observe the inner workings of your thought leads to less destruction and more creativity.
“When two immovable objects meet, there is conflict.”
The place to begin minimizing destructiveness and maximizing creativity lies within you. Once that really sinks in, you get to be free. If you’re the cause of your trouble, then you must also be the solution.
When I am free to see that a conflict I have with another begins in my own inner conversation, I can work on my inner conversation as preparation for a creative act.
Working on my inner conversation looks like:
Challenging my reflex to be “Right”
Getting clear about my intentions
Taking responsibility for the relationship
Seeing the other as innocent and having good intentions
Searching for some common ground
Once I’ve taken responsibility for myself and the relationship, my inner voice becomes quiet. It’s given up trying to control and has found a way to feel powerful again. When conflict happens in me, and, if I’m present and observant of my thoughts, this is how I prepare to listen. And, this is freedom.
Listening is how to get one of the immovable objects to move. With clarity about what matters, I am now able to be the movable object.
Will and Marjorie of Mobius Inc. have provided me with an extremely effective method for how to listen. They would not say it exactly like this, but here’s my interpretation:
Most of the time, we are walking around with a story in our heads and we’re looking for agreement with that story. So, the bar (or measure) of what we listen for is either agreement or disagreement. There is a higher bar in listening which is listening for understanding.
When you understand the other’s point of view, you now have a better understanding, you understand your point of view and the others. This level of listening includes where we agree and disagree, and it doesn’t stop there. Will gives a visual for this: when you are listening, notice when you stop listening to the other because your inner story is loud in your head. When you notice, put that on the back burner and return to focus on listening for understanding.
It is this stuck-ness on the inner story and the search for agreement and disagreement that ignites a battle.
In my own self investigation, I’ve come across a few major themes of how I find myself stuck.
Attachment to my ideas. Believing strongly that my idea is the right idea.
Believing if I don’t say what I’m thinking right now, I’ll lose it.
Thwarted autonomy. Feeling as though someone is trying to control me.
Judgements. Mostly judgements about myself, which sound like shame.
Trauma is triggered. Reliving of past experience as though it is the present experience.
I am not proud of these attributes and part of me wishes they were not mine, however, I’ve also found freedom in acknowledging these shadow sides of my own personality. As I look even deeper, I find that I’ve invented all of these themes, not a single one of them is due to my current circumstances. These shadow sides are habits, adopted earlier in life and if unnoticed, they are the autopilot setting when I believe I’m in danger, whether real or perceived.
At the core of all of these is immovability. Whenever I hold any of these states of mind, I become immovable.
In all of these states, I’ve lost the ability to accept “what is” and am instead clinging on to the idea that I can control a different outcome, more in line with my desires.
This all points to conflict actually being an inner phenomenon- a conflict inside of us that if left unchecked, reflects our inner turmoil onto the outer world.
It would be really nice to have the other be the problem- that’s what most of us do in conflict, make the other the problem.
Conflict is a big subject and can be thought about from many angles. In this small article, I wanted to focus on the inner story that gets in the way of creative resolution.
My mentors at Mobius call the inner story a monologue, meaning:
Mono = One + logue = meaning.
Monologue = One meaning.
The action to take here is simple to say, but difficult to do. Simply put, the action you can take to minimize destruction and maximize creativity is twofold:
Notice the themes in your monologue. List the top 3 - 5 (I’ve listed some of mine above).
Recognize them in real time- not when you are relaxed and contemplating life, but when you are activated and frustrated with someone else. And practice putting them on the back burner and turning your attention towards listening for understanding.
Here are a few resources:
I don’t know anything of Cheryl Richardson, other than her great quote, she has a book and looks like a successful coach. Check her out.
Read Krishnamurti “On Relationship”.
Check out our tool for Creative Dialogue, AKA: conflict resolution.