A few months ago, I posted a quote on Twitter that a colleague sent me because she thought I’d like it. And I do. Here it is: The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. "Because I think I'm making progress" he replied.
This post was retweeted just under 300 times by the time of this blog and “liked” over 800 times and I found that interesting. Since I usually post on conflict management topics, I thought about a way to link the spirit of the quote with how its essence might relate to practicing ways to “do” conflict better.
When it comes to interpersonal conflict, reaching our personal and professional potential to be effective at conflict is fraught with challenges. Along the way, we use and default to habits that don’t serve us well. For instance, sometimes under the strain of fractious interactions, we act in ways we don’t respect about ourselves; we hurt others; we say and do foolish things; we find fault; we insult; we put others down; we ignore; we reject; we fabricate; we do not empathize; we are careless; we are thoughtless; we are selfish; we judge; we patronize; we do not take responsibility; and so on.
Relying on habits about how we interact in conflict means we do not consider we have control over our reactions and are “at choice” and that there are alternative ways to approach interpersonal dissension. To effectively engage in interactions when they become problematic we, like Pablo Casals, can practice how to be better at conflict. This may mean learning ways to better manage our emotions, our words and our bodies. It may mean practicing different ways of communicating so as to not hurt others and risk irreconcilable results. It may mean choosing other ways to assert and defend our views. I could go on with the practices we could take on to do conflict better – and well, I guess we may still be practicing at age 90!
Please consider these questions if you need more practice at being better at conflict:
- What are three specific challenges you have with being in conflict?
- What do you think you need to practice to improve each of the above challenges?
- If good friends or family who observed you in conflict were to advise you what you could specifically practice, what might they add?
- What do you imagine would be the hardest one of the above-named challenges to improve? What makes that one the hardest?
- When you change the way you engage in conflict, how do you want to be described by the same people you had in mind in the third question?
- What would you like to begin with to improve your conflict competence?
- What would you need to practice to accomplish this (your answer to the above question)?
- How will you measure your progress?
- How old do you want to be when you no longer need practice with these challenges?
- What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
- What insights do you have?