A simple tool to turn conflict into an opportunity for learning and connection, reducing the amount of stress and anxiety it creates in your life.
There is a moment at the beginning of any potential conflict that dictates the outcome of everything that will follow.
This is the moment in which you feel yourself reacting to something that was said or done and feel the urge to act on it.
Sometimes it’s critical to simply follow these instincts — if you’re just about to be run down by a bus or attacked by a dog then it’s important not to stop for some quiet reflection.
But when it’s a comment by a work colleague in a meeting, or an ill-timed question from your partner it pays to be able to respond differently.
The tricky thing is that your brain and body often can’t tell the difference between threats to your basic, physical needs and those that threaten your sense of identity or belonging, for example.
And what it doesn’t take into account is that ‘threats’ in that second category are neither intended as an attack or likely to have real, negative consequences.
Instead it uses your past experiences to judge and categorise events and other people as potential threats and urge you to act accordingly.
Well-intended as it is, this makes life pretty stressful and puts barriers up between you and other people.
The job we have to do is to spot this happening, to know which questions to ask and create the space to choose, so that we can avoid unhealthy, destructive conflict and break patterns that don’t help us.
So I’ve developed a tool for this.
What they are
The Fight Cards are 12 prompts to orientate and guides yourself through nearly any conflict.
They can be used as ‘steps’ but because not every conflict is a linear process it’s more helpful if you think of them as ‘moves’.
And just like a martial artist or ballet dancer learning a new routine, these moves are to be copied and practiced until they become muscle memory.
They take you through four questions:
- What’s my story?
- What’s their story?
- What do I need?
- What am I going to do?
The first question is about bringing awareness to however you’re reacting — without allowing it to spill out.
The second is to get a more complete picture of the situation by understanding the other person’s motivations and needs.
The third is a chance to ask yourself given what I know, what’s the result I want? Beyond your initial reaction and the fear or anger that came with it: what’s really best for me, this relationship or piece of work?
And the last is the opportunity to act in a way that’s aligned to what you want- whether that’s a request to the other person or simply gaining the clarity needed to walk away.
The 12 prompt cards, along with accompanying videos and and online mini-manual teach you the skills you need to work through these questions.
And every time you do you’ll become more comfortable and skilled in working with conflict.
How to use the cards
There are two ways to put the cards to use, but the first thing to do is watch the brief videos that talk through the practice and read through the mini-manual.
Once you’ve oriented yourself with them, there are two main methods to applying them.
- Alone: as a personal practice and teaching tool
In testing and development, people found it helpful to have the cards to hand — either in a bag or a familiar place in the office — so they could pick them up as needed and work through potential conflicts alone so they felt prepared to have different conversations to the ones they might usually have had. Some people would pick cards at random to remind themselves of key skills to practice during their day.
2. Together: as a way to work through difficult conversations
Others have used these cards to sit with people they had disagreements with, to work through the process together and find new understanding. Most of the time, they found they only had to follow a few of the steps for understanding to be reached.
Sitting and working through the 12 cards — alone or with a partner will ease the stress and anxiety that conflict provokes, allowing you and others to see more clearly what’s going on, and make choices based on what’s going to make life better, rather than out of a need to win or a desire to avoid any disagreement.
Why I developed these cards
I’ve been working with conflict for many years in organisations and at home.
I realised that it’s an area of life where most of us have been given no training and yet it’s a natural part of living and working together.
I’ve seen — and felt — how conflict can create distance between people, make relationships and workplaces stagnant and painful, and ultimately lead to stress and illness.
I’ve noticed how many of the tools I’ve learned along the way frame conflict as a problem and put the emphasis on a ‘method’ for dealing with it.
These prompt cards encourage a practical response that’s rooted in reframing our relationship with conflict. Being more curious and having more choice.
And rather than trying to make it go away or use it as a battleground to get our way, ask you to use it as a practice ground for bringing more of who you can be into the conversation.
You can buy the cards here (with access to the videos and manual)
Or if you want to go a bit deeper, you can take one of my online courses in How to fight well.