If you have been reading our blogs or books for awhile, you know that Louie, my adopted dog, has a few issues. He sometimes acts tough when actually he is afraid, he doesn’t like anyone coming into our house, and he absolutely does not like conflict.
You might wonder how a dog can know anything about conflict. Well, his actions speak volumes. He runs from any type of confrontation the minute it begins. Clearly, this type of behavior doesn’t work in the “real” world of business.
Interestingly, a healthy culture that promotes trust requires dealing with conflict. Sometime ago, we decided to talk to one of Louie’s gal pals, Ellie Ruhl, whose mom is an expert on dealing with conflict. Ellie has since passed but her wisdom lives on.
Here’s what we learned:
LOUIE: Ellie, I was wondering if you could help me. My Master Mom seems to think I have an aversion to conflict. Since your Master Mom, Lynne Ruhl, is an expert on healthy cultures and helps people all over the world deal with conflict, perhaps you can give me some advice?
ELLIE: Of course, Louie. I’ll certainly try. Tell me why your Mom thinks you have this aversion.
LOUIE: Uhh, well, I run every time there’s conflict. It’s very uncomfortable! There’s growling, baring of teeth, loud voices all around. Makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.
ELLIE: Louie, that does sound uncomfortable. Does it frighten you?
LOUIE: No, not at all.
(ELLIE tilts her head and continues to look at Louie with her adorable big eyes.)
LOUIE: Well, maybe just a little.
ELLIE: That’s understandable. After all, just from the body language alone, there is a clear message being sent, right? In our culture, when a dog bares his teeth he is sending you a clear message to back off or else.
LOUIE: Right, and I get that message loud and clear and take off running. Don’t have to tell me twice.
ELLIE: That’s probably the best approach when you’re dealing with a fellow canine. But when dealing with humans, sometimes the best approach is to take some time to process what’s going on and then deal with the issue. You’re not alone. Most people don’t know how to deal with conflict. It really is uncomfortable.
But the alternative is living with suppressed anger or resentment, which eventually leaks out, causing harm to us and others. So it is best to deal with it.
LOUIE: I know Ellie, you’re right. You’re always right. So show me some steps I
should take to deal with conflict more effectively.
ELLIE: Sure, Louie. I’d be happy to.
- First, take time to cool down. Step back and assess what’s going on inside you.
- Seek to understand what the other person might be experiencing.
- Pay close attention and let them share whatever is going on for them. See things from their perspective. And most importantly, listen.
- When you seek to understand the other person’s position, your body language and attitude will soften and won’t look “scary” to them.
LOUIE: Ok, thanks El. And this works?
ELLIE: Oh yes, it works for my Mom every time. Remember, dealing with conflict can be uncomfortable, but losing a friend is heartbreaking.
LOUIE: Wow, Ellie, that makes so much sense. This has been really helpful. I wonder if my Master Mom knows this information.
ELLIE: Oh, of course she does Louie. She uses it all the time.
LOUIE: Thanks, Ellie. I think I will do better next time I’m around conflict. You’re a great friend to help me out with this.
ELLIE: You’re welcome, Louie. I appreciate our friendship. And you know I really love your Mom, right?
LOUIE: Of course, [sniff ], I know that [gulp]. I’m good with that, Ellie.