I never tire of watching our cats fight. Or play. I’m never really sure which it is. They mostly seem to enjoy the exchanges. There is the occasional snarly meow that has the distinct sound of being extremely annoyed. But the fighting (or playing) continues, on and on and on, it goes.
Co-workers can have this type of non-stop bickering. Ever been a part of it? It’s easy to get into a pattern and then hard to get out of it.
The big problem with the continuation of two people being frustrated with each other, without ever clearing the air, is that it builds on itself. It gets worse. Much worse. The tension escalates. The anger settles. Nothing becomes constructive and others get pulled into the battles.
It’s important to know that conflict is healthy. It’s the way you handle it that matters.
It requires a real commitment to become aware of the pattern and decide that you want to change it. The best thing you can do when you feel like you’re in a fight, is to play instead. Here are a few ways to lighten the mood:
1. Pause. If you catch yourself in a petty exchange, pause, then reflect on what you would say in the same situation if the person on the receiving end was someone else. Sometimes we agitate a situation solely because we’re irritated with the other person instead of the situation. When we can think more objectively, it’s easier to respond less emotionally.
2. Be kind. Think about how welcome it would be if the other person was kind to you; there is no reason why you shouldn’t be the first one to show that kindness. It may come back to you, but if it doesn’t, you can still feel good about it.
3. Be curious. When someone “starts a fight,” our first and natural inclination is to fight back, defending ourselves. But things can change immediately if you respond with curiosity. Asking a question, such as “Why do you think that?” or “What can we do together to change this?” will allow for more discussion and clarity as opposed to more argument. (Be careful about your tone of voice. If this is said with sarcasm, it will ruin your intention!)
All these ideas are ways to accomplish the real goal, which is to (truly) hear what the other person is trying to say. If you’re so busy trying to make the other person look bad, you will never (truly) be heard.
Oliver and Dodger seem to have this fighting / playing thing down. They don’t shy away from the fight, they just know how to do it well. I can’t even tell the difference they when go at it. One minute they attack, the next minute they walk away happy and calm. They communicate in ways that allows the other to be heard. That’s a lesson worth paying attention to.