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How Your Current State of Health Can Affect the Way You Handle Conflict

The following is a guest post by Executive Wellness Coaching firm, Connected EC. Conflict management takes skill and practice. However, if you are not starting with a foundation of well-being, no amount of skill building can leave you with the energy left to tackle conflict in a constructive manner.Does this sound familiar?You begin your day with 16 new emails before you’ve even left your house. Knowing there is a crisis waiting for you at work, you skip your morning workout and breakfast so you can arrive at the office early to address the situation.You get a cup of coffee and dig into work taking only one small break until your 1p.m. team meeting. You grab a bagel from the kitchen on your way to the conference room.After the meeting, a cup of coffee gives you the little energy boost needed to tackle your new “to do” list. At 4:00 p.m. you learn from your subordinate that one of the largest accounts has cancelled an order putting you below the revenue target for the quarter. You’re surprised and frustrated with how your subordinate has handled this situation, but you’ve got to overcome the conflict and work with him to come up with an action plan to rectify the situation by tomorrow morning.When you are depleted, it’s difficult to respond to challenges with a clear mind and resolve conflicts constructively.

Nutrition and Conflict Management

Without the right foods, it is hard to show up with enough energy for yourself, let alone others. Healthy eating plays a crucial role in your ability to connect with others and to deal with times of stress. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are all important for energy, mental concentration, and emotional stability. These nutrients are not only important for your overall health, but a balanced diet impacts key emotional intelligence skills like cognitive agility, mental focus and empathy. It takes energy to be open and curious, especially in times of conflict.Eat your way to a high energy day by visualizing your meals as a pyramid.

Breakfast is the base and largest part of the pyramid. Breakfast should be substantial and filling, containing high quality protein and fat. Consider the smoothie as one of the simplest “fast food” breakfasts. It’s a quick source of water, easily digestible nutrients, protein and fiber. Your evening meal is the smallest point at the top of the pyramid. By having a smaller meal in the evening, you allow your body to enter the resting state and improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep!Finally, we cannot over emphasize the importance of staying hydrated. Even mild dehydration can reduce memory and increase tension, anxiety, and fatigue. So drink up!

Power Poses and Conflict

Our physical bodies tell the world who we are and frequently, what we’re thinking and feeling. When faced with conflict, our health and physical presence can have a big impact on the experience for everyone involved, as well as on the resolution. We have all experienced the physical symptoms of conflict whether we noticed they were happening or not. It may feel like panic or anxiety; create defensive or powerless body language; or cause faster and shallower breathing. All of these physical symptoms have strong potential to impede a resolution. The more we ignore or fail to notice the negative physical responses just mentioned above, the easier it is for that to become our default response to conflict. But the good news is with practice, we can learn to work with our conditioned responses and shift them to more productive outcomes.

One tool for changing the physiological response to conflict is with your body posture. Optimal body posture has been proven to improve our state of mind and can even tell the brain which hormones to produce. Amy Cuddy’s research on power posing tells us that our posture is directly correlated with our mental and emotional state; our tendency to take risks; and our self-image.Low-power positions (like being hunched over or making our body smaller) have dramatic negative effects on our physical ability to handle conflict. In these positions, our bodies produce more stress hormones like cortisol, we become more risk-averse and we have a more negative body image. Power positions where posture makes us bigger, taller and more open will lower cortisol levels, produce more growth hormones and make us more likely to take risks. These positions also increase our confidence and influence behavioral change. Becoming aware of your physical presence can help you lead a healthier environment, contribute to better communication and allow for fast, efficient conflict resolution.

Mindfulness and Conflict

Imagine you wake up in prehistoric times. You are yawning and stretching as you walk to the mouth of your cave when you spot a salivating tiger waiting to pounce. Now is not the time for deep, complex thinking. Instead, you need to act quickly.

Whenever we experience danger, two tiny, almond-shaped structures lodged in the primitive part of our brain called the amygdalae kick into hijack mode stirring strong reactions: fight, run or freeze. These are perfectly appropriate options when facing a tiger. However, in modern times the loss of a major client relationship doesn’t warrant the same level of life or death reactivity. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves caught in default patterns of survival behavior that are combative or defensive, when what we most need is to be open and curious to be able to navigate to a constructive solution.

Research shows that in just 8 weeks of daily Mindfulness practice, we can rewire our brains and our default reactive patterns. Practicing mindfulness both shrinks the amygdalae and decreases their activity. It also thickens a newer structure within the brain responsible for orchestrating our thoughts and behaviors based on our goals. This structure, called the middle prefrontal cortex, allows us to meet conflict with wisdom, foresight and level-headedness.

Just five minutes of meditation per day can make a big difference. Yoga, breathing practices, and scheduled mental breaks or downtime can also help. Practicing mindfulness can even be as simple as noticing what you are feeling in your body when you get hijacked (such as a racing heart rate, sweaty palms or sudden strong emotions) and taking five deep, slow breaths before you act.

Putting it into Practice

We worked with a 50-year-old executive who revealed that she had a fear of conflict and issues around her ability to connect deeply with others. From her perspective, she lacked specific skillsets in these two areas. But we saw something else.

Through our assessment process, we learned that her energy levels where extremely low due to a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and high levels of stress. We worked closely with her to improve her nutrition and physical fitness, which gave her more energy and a stronger stance both physically and emotionally. Teaching her simple mindfulness practices improved her ability to be present with others. Her interactions became deeper and she found herself willing to face conflict rather than flee from it. Her challenges weren’t about lacking the skills to handle conflict. They were about lacking the energy and mindset to face it.

Bio:Connected EC is an executive wellness firm that helps leaders make high impact lifestyle changes so they gain the energy, strength and presence to feel and be their best. Its wellness coaching and leadership development programs are designed for VIPs and deliver measurable, fast and sustainable results. Please visit the website at or contact or more information!

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: 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.

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