How to Be Your Best in the Midst of Conflict
When we facilitate strategic topic discussions with business leaders and their teams, we find that conversations often get heated as smart, passionate people debate different ways to solve a problem. This is healthy team behavior – if people hang in and take care of themselves.
However, one or more people often get triggered by what’s happening.
What we mean by triggered is going into a state of stress, or what is commonly called the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is a nervous system response, which was quite helpful when needed to run from saber-toothed tigers to stay alive. It’s still helpful when we’re in real danger. Sitting across a conference room table having a discussion is rarely a real danger.
What Happens When We’re Triggered
When we’re triggered, we are no longer present; we’re off balance and don’t have access to all of our resources for handling the situation well. This can look like getting stuck on trying to make a point, not noticing what’s happening to others in the room, or being so uncomfortable we look down to try to block it all out.
Physiologically, our focus narrows, our breathing changes. We’re not thinking with our whole brain. In fact, when triggered, the body moves resources (blood and oxygen) from some parts of the brain and body to other parts to prepare for fight, flight, or shutting down altogether and freezing like a scared possum.
This is not a high-performance state, nor is it a good state to be in for making significant business decisions, yet we often see it happening.
What to Do to Balance
We want to provide you with tools for helping you bring yourself back into balance from a triggered state so that you have access to more of your resources in the moment.
This will help you show up as a whole person, meaning being aware of what’s happening for you and around you, curious about the other people involved, and able to focus on the nuances of the issue being discussed.
Many of the tools below can be done in the midst of a meeting. Other people will likely not even notice you’re doing them.
Expand Your Focus
When we’re under stress our focus becomes narrow, our attention zeros in on either something in the environment or on our internal thoughts. The simple tool of orienting can help us to expand our focus, improving access to our resources.
When you notice yourself in a narrowly focused state, gently and slowly turn your head look to your left and notice something you haven’t seen before. Pause and let it in. Now turn your head slowly and gently in the other direction and do the same thing – pause and notice. Next, slowly turn your head and look around to other areas of the room. The key with orienting is to do it s-l-o-w-l-y.
Allow yourself to be surprised by what you notice in the room when you’re orienting. Try it now and see what happens. Notice how you feel in your body.
Does your breathing change? What do you feel in your body? Are you aware now that you have a body?
Connect to Your Physical Body
When stressed, we often disconnect from our physical body and focus on someone else in our environment or obsess about the problem so we can work out how to fix it. We’re large organisms and our physical bodies need to be, and can’t help but be, aware in the present moment. When triggered, a key way to recover is to connect to your body more consciously as a resource.
Grounding – Feel Your Feet and Your Seat
First, focus on your feet, maybe wiggle your toes or swipe your feet back and forth. See if you can imagine your feet getting heavier, like they’re made of cement or like there are roots from the soles of your feet that go all the way into the earth.
Second, feel your bottom and your back being supported in your chair. Relax into the support of the chair. You may want to wiggle your back against the chair to feel it more.
With practice, people report feeling more settled after doing this. Try it now and see what you notice.
Breathing – Long Exhale
Taking a breath is often suggested as a way to calm down, but this can actually activate your system into more of a triggered state – unless the exhale is a long one. If you take a conscious deep breath, make sure the exhale is longer than the inhale. The exhale is the settling part of breathing.
Try it now. Take a deep breath and make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale. Do this a couple of times. Notice how you feel.
Be Your Best
The tools above can help you settle your nervous system when you’re triggered. Experiment to discover which ones work for you. You can also come up with your own tools. The goal is to be settled and present versus triggered into a fight, flight, or freeze state. When you’re settled, you’re at your best.
In working with teams and coaching team members, we unfortunately often find that they’ve become accustomed to operating in a state of stress. The sad thing is that they don’t realize they’re habitually underperforming!
You want to be at your best, especially when discussing important topics that impact the direction of your business.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.