Connections: The cascading spread of an action.

A person tosses a stone into water

Actions cascade outward like ripples from a stone tossed into still water. And like the proverbial rock, once it is loosed an action is out of our hands and the resultant ripples out of our control.

The value of an action lies completely within itself. Its ripples emanate outward into the world; cascading into the waves and currents of others, disappearing into crests and troughs that are always moving, shifting, and transforming. It can be difficult to spot the effect of a single drop into such a churn, yet simultaneously it never truly disappears; still there in the sea of being, though less visible in its compounding intermingling.

And the waters are never still. The effects of an action intertwine with factors beyond ourselves – perspectives, conditioning, and subjectivity…from a single perspective, it is impossible to know wholly the resultant impacts of something we do.

This is not an excuse to absolve ourselves of liability when our ripple causes a splash. If someone feels disrespected even though we didn’t mean it for example, we still have a responsibility for our action in the situation.

When we recognize the inevitable cause-and-effect relationship of an action, we can begin to see the myriad of things it touches outside of us. Nothing is done in a vacuum and acknowledging our interconnectivity is important in dealing with unexpected results like conflict. Sure, you might not have meant to cause such a reaction in someone else, but your ripple did play a part in it. And it helps to answer the question of now what!? – where understanding of one’s role in the wider scope of things allows for more creativity in remedying them.

Perhaps the next time we perform a similar rock toss, we can do so with a little more mindfulness of the potential waves it may cause.

All this is to say that we can’t know the full effect of our actions, but we can know that there is an effect in each and every one.

A woman dances amidst moving streams of water

Recognizing this reality of interbeing, it becomes evident that little actions can have outsized impacts.

Forgiving your partner after a turbulent conflict establishes a positive archetype to the watchful eyes of a child, a similarly struggling friend, or a stranger’s happenstance gaze. The unexpected gift of someone paying for your coffee sows seeds of generosity that you might pay forward to someone else. A boss who takes time to listen to you as a human inspires likewise efforts to see their humanity when later at odds in tough work situations.

And the ripples don’t stop there as others toss their stones into the sea of collective being as well. The child grows up and chooses forgiveness at a tough crossroads. The generosity train continues. Colleagues form the foundation of a healthy company culture.

On and on, things have a certain momentum to them.

But these outsized effects also apply to less-than-nice actions. Abuse, disrespect, trauma…the ripples cascade outwards for generations and it can take an inordinate amount of effort to shift the hidden momentum behind them. These massive events never come out of nowhere, though it may be difficult to clearly see the currents beneath the surface that they arise from.

A lot of the mediation concepts we elucidate on this blog might be seen as "focusing on the negative." But rest assured that we only shine a light on the negative in order to help us see it more clearly. The hope is that from there we can then transform it into a more positive direction.

Emphasis is put on dancing with the waters in tough situations: watching the ripples happen in slow motion, softening and receiving their momentum carefully, and doing our best to redirect it somewhere better than a tidal wave.

We focus on conflict so that we can find resolution. We focus on disrespect so that we can cultivate respect. It’s not about one or the other, but the dual existence of both.

There is simultaneously hope and responsibility in the cascading potential of each action, which extends far beyond our vision. By this same measure, we accept unanticipated results – remembering that our reaction to what comes our way is as important as that which we’re reacting to, the important not-knowing nature of beginner’s mind, and that each action is a practice rather than perfection.

All of us could stand to be better with our rock tossing and water dancing.

Learn more about training yourself with the important skill of conflict resolution by participating in one of our readily available online webinars or ongoing in-person training programs.

We looking forward to navigating these waters with you.

Friend or Foe: How to manage perfectionism.

A smart emoji next to the mispelt title 'How to be Perfec'

Have you ever been told that you’re a perfectionist? If so, chances are the title was thrown out there with a negative spin to it. "You’re a perfectionist," translating to, "You’re uptight, demanding, controlling, and fussy."

Yikes. Sure there are some downsides to perfectionism, but is it really all that?

The colloquial definition of a perfectionist is this:

A perfectionist is someone who wants everything to be perfect all the time and who gets upset when they aren’t.

Basically, being told you’re a perfectionist is a way to shut down the conversation. It’s a way to try to win at a disagreement, without necessarily addressing the root cause of conflict. And to add insult to injury, we might believe the accusation and agree with the negativity associated with being a perfectionist.

But this definition is incomplete. Perfectionists aren’t toddlers that want their juice box at the exact moment they want it with the straw inserted just so and it better be apple juice or else. Perfectionists are intelligent, ambitious, interested, interesting people who are thirsty for more (juice, or otherwise).

So before we run off to try to quash our perfectionism and be okay with being mediocre, consider this: what if your perfectionism exists to help you and those around you?

Being a perfectionist means that you have an innate desire to test the limits, to push the boundaries, to ascend. It is a trait that can be a gift – giving us the determination to see tough things through, from brushing our teeth every day to not giving up in the face of uncomfortable conflicts.

Further, this can-do spirit cascades out beyond an individual. Perfectionists are the members of our communities who remind us not to underestimate ourselves and that we owe it to ourselves to strive for more.

Perfectionism isn’t perfect, but it’s also not all bad.

'Practice makes perfect' sign with 'adaptively' slipped in before 'perfect'

In Katherine Morgan Schafler’s book, The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power, she discusses how research splits perfectionism into two branches:

  • Adaptive perfectionism: The use of perfectionism to your benefit in a healthy, learning-oriented, and constructive way.
  • Maladaptive perfectionism: An unhealthy, destructive form of perfectionism.

Adaptive perfectionism has many benefits, including better self-esteem, higher levels of work engagement and psychological well-being, and lower levels of perceived failure. While maladaptive perfectionism manifests as procrastination, rumination, defensiveness or avoiding conflict, adaptive perfectionists focus on taking action to find solutions, all the while doing it with more optimism and less anxiety.

Can we start to see that the prevailing dialogue about perfectionism is solely focused on the maladaptive kind?

It makes sense that our collective lens tends to narrow when discussing complex topics. As humans, we like things to be simple so that we can make sense of them. But an incomplete view of perfectionism robs us of the opportunity to embrace who we are and to use our strengths to their fullest. Perfectionism, when managed with care and tact, is a powerful energy that can bring us all closer to peace, fulfillment, and resolution.

Picture this: your in-laws’ 30th anniversary is coming up and the occasion deserves a celebration, but party plans are a multi-headed beast in such a large extended family. As a perfectionist, planning is your forté (and not being the planner is a stress worse than the work itself). You have a clear vision of how to string up the balloons, lay out the cheese board, and organize the living room seating – but Niece, Sister-in-law, and Husband have strong opinions that they’ve brought to the table too. Niece thinks the balloons ought to be helium; Sister-in-law staunchly believes that both Brie and Camembert are needed. And Husband doesn’t care about seats because he’s going to be DJ Dad and get the party grooving.

As a maladaptive perfectionist you might roll your eyes at these ideas and, if your fellow party planners don’t get the message that your way is obviously the best, then perhaps you’ll kick over a chair, pop some balloons, and stomp off indignantly – withdrawing your help altogether and crossing your arms in the corner. In effect you’ve avoided dealing with the conflict head-on and stubbornly stuck to your stance, without offering options for a path forward.

But as an adaptive perfectionist, you would discuss the logistics of helium with Niece, put aside the issue of your sister-in-law’s unhealthy obsession with soft-ripened cheeses (you can deal with that later), and remove a couple of foldout chairs in the negotiation of the evening’s schedule with your spouse-turned-DJ to make sure the speeches are made before the beat drops. You understand that there are many ways to achieve the shared goal of celebrating people dear to everyone involved, and you have the agility and optimism to know that it’ll all work out well enough.

Practice makes perfectadaptively perfect in this case, rather than absolutely perfect.

Here at Mediation Services, we believe that you can solve your own problems. Our work is to support you in your personal and professional journey of understanding how your role in relationships can bring beneficial outcomes – whether in your family, community, or workplace.

Hop into one of our online on-demand courses or sign up for an in-person training session so that you can unpack your strengths for the betterment of yourself and those around you.

Perfectionism is just one of the superpowers that we have to tap into!

Owning Our Part: The antidote to complicated conflict.

A person drags a huge sled of emotional baggage as they walk

Have you ever been frustrated with how a conflict can mentally hitch a ride with you thereafter? Riled up by the uncomfortable situation we are embroiled in, we turn the details over and over in our heads as we try to make sense of what happened. With an outward gaze, as we tend to default towards in a basic version of The Blame Game, this can become an unwanted extracurricular activity that follows us around.

When bad things happen, it’s usually the result of a series of many things and often involves many people – including ourselves. But accepting that we’ve made a mistake is difficult, and so the blame is cast outward. When we avoid looking at ourselves, we are not being honest – and as a result, we can’t find peace.

Consider this quote by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, from their book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me):

The mind wants to protect itself from the pain of dissonance with the balm of self-justification, but the soul wants to confess.

By way of self-protection, our mind wants to convince us that we did nothing wrong – that it’s always the "other" that is being unreasonable. This play battle of good (you, obviously) versus evil (them, obviously!!!) can only go on for so long – because underneath the hand-wringing and finger-pointing, there is a part of us that wants to own up. A clean conscience, after all, helps us to sleep soundly at night.

If it’s beneficial to concede to our mistakes, why is it so difficult to admit them? There are a couple of common reasons:

  1. We aren’t aware that we have made a mistake.
  2. Many of our cultures are mistake-phobic, linking mistakes with incompetence or stupidity that will be punished.

When our cultures and societies have a narrow tolerance for mistakes, we inevitably develop coping strategies to avoid making them in the first place – or having responsibility land on us in the second, third, or eleventh place.

Does this make us humans sound conniving? Well, it’s not that simple. The way this usually plays out is unconscious. Unbeknownst to our conscious selves, we often have an unconscious internal conversation that describes ourselves more positively and others more negatively. Inwardly, we think of ourselves as good innocent people who couldn’t possibly make a mistake, sheesh! Then we reaffirm our haloed self-image by spending time ruminating on the specificities of how others got it wrong.

Naturally, these spinning thoughts spill out of our minds and off our tongues to any ear that will listen – creating a containment problem that arises to which our colleagues, friends, and family can probably testify. Worse, none of this solves the original conflict and unnecessarily escalates the issue.

A note to self that we all make mistakes

Whether a hesitancy to admit to our mistakes is due to cultural conditioning or honest unawareness, we can help ourselves and each other by shifting our perspective to a more nuanced stance. In recognizing that conflict is natural, we can address our spiralling thoughts. We can remove the shackles of having to be perfect and mistake-free. And when we hold a more realistic view of our role in a situation, we can cultivate a culture of growth.

There are three things we need to understand and accept about our role in all conflicts:

  1. We will make mistakes: No one is perfect! Besides, mistakes give us a chance to learn. Becoming better is all about experimenting, trying new things, and opening up to new possibilities. And when we inevitably mess up, we try again better next time.
  2. Our intentions are complex: While we might insist that we’re keeping our motives pure, we all have blind spots. Could there be some unconscious, secondary gains we aren’t acknowledging?
  3. We have contributed to the problem: This can be tough to own up to, but it’s necessary for moving forward. We are embedded in a relationship’s dynamics, where our actions have not always been constructive. Even if our behaviour was not immoral, illegal, or unethical, it might just not work for the other person.

So let’s agree to stop blaming out, okay? But before we swing too far the other way into thinking that it’s all up to us, let’s remember that it’s both. The antidote to defensiveness in the face of conflict is for each of us to own our part.

When we claim personal responsibility in life’s sticky situations, we can take steps towards clarity, understanding, and perhaps even resolution. This translates to a sense of lightness – so that when we are wrapping up the day, we can be free of mental and emotional baggage that otherwise might follow us around.

Through many years of third-party mediation, we’ve witnessed the stark difference that this shift in mindset can bring to conflict that otherwise feels stuck. Rehearsing and regurgitating stories about how others are wrong does not have to be your hobby.

Our ongoing work here at Mediation Services is to help you find resolution and clarity in the conflict of your own life. There are plenty of resources on our blog to get you started, and we continually offer accessible trainings in mediation (both online and offline) with tools for you to help disentangle tricky situations.

While we all need to take 100% responsibility for our role in the conflict, we also need to allow other people to safely take responsibility for theirs too. If you need assistance bridging a divide that has formed, request a third-party mediator here or contact us to explore your options.

We are here to empower you amidst the complexity of interconnectivity.

Interconnected: Conflict is rarely one person’s fault.

Fingers pointing at each other

Are you familiar with The Blame Game? You can play it anywhere, anytime! And many of us do. Imagine this:

You’re making your morning cup of coffee and shuffle to the fridge to grab some milk. Barely awake because you had stayed up late watching one more episode of your favourite show, you are looking forward to some caffeine. Just as you’re pulling it out, you accidentally knock over a tower of Tupperware, which sends the orange juice flying. With the milk in one hand and your coffee mug in the other, you watch as the bottle of orange juice slow-motion bounces once, twice, and smashes to the floor; the lid popping off and its sweet golden liquid surging out, underneath the fridge, and soaking the fresh socks you had just pulled out of the pile of unfolded clean laundry.

You would throw your hands up in the air if you still weren’t holding the milk and coffee.

And it’s not even 9 am.

No longer thirsty and now fully awake (no thanks to caffeine), you grab a dishcloth to stem the sticky deluge. Sopping up the mess, your mind begins to spin: If only Spouse hadn’t stacked the Tupperware like that, this wouldn’t have happened. I saw how badly things were crammed in there last night, but I was distracted by Mother calling. Why did she have to call at that time?! And then I got busy with work emails. Ugh, Colleague needs to stop messaging me after hours! How can Company make such a faulty cap on that juice bottle anyway?! I am going to write them an email. And where is Spouse?!! They should be cleaning this up! I don’t even like orange juice!! IT WAS THEIR TUPPERWARE TOWER!!!

As you use your socks to absorb the juice seeping into the corner of the baseboards (because why not, they’re soaked already), you continue to mentally list the litany of scapegoats, lining them up one after another. You’re still muttering to yourself when Spouse comes in, sees the mess, and drops on their knees to help. Worked up into a frenzy, you sputter at them angrily about how they need to stack the Tupperware better.

Yes, maybe they do. But you were rushing this morning as well…so maybe, just maybe, you bear some responsibility too?

It’s a radical thought.

Cow exclaiming don't cry over spilt orange juice

The nature of relationship is that we are all deeply interconnected. This also means that any given situation tends to not be as simple as we might wish it to be.

When things inevitably get messy like in our spilt orange juice example, pointing out these reasons to the mess-that-is might have some merit. Yes, Spouse haphazardly stacked the Tupperware last night as they were cleaning up and hurrying to bed. And sure, Mother called you to say hello. And okay, Colleague emailed you after hours as they were trying to figure out the vexing work problem. But pointing only at these things amounts to excuses – and shirks any responsibility that you also bear.

When bad things happen, it’s usually the result of a series of many things and often involves many people. While context might help explain how a series of steps added up to a moment of regrettable action, it does not exonerate one’s role. Rarely does the fault solely lie with one person. Yet often our focus lingers on the wrongs of other people to the exclusion of ourselves – when in reality, everyone involved bears some level of responsibility.

At this point, you might be realizing you’re better at The Blame Game than you originally thought. But what if we choose to include ourselves in making sense of what happened?

Imagine you are back in your kitchen, having just mopped up all the spilt orange juice. You apologize to your partner for your outburst (after which they concede to their poor Tupperware architecture), change your socks, and head to work ready to tackle the tricky problem that your colleague emailed you about late last night.

We believe this is a worthy amendment to the rules of the game. By recognizing our role in life’s messes, we embrace reality – and act as fairly and honestly as we can, doing our best in complicated circumstances.

The proverbial orange juice will inevitably spill again. And when it does, the question becomes: how can we both accept responsibility and ask others to accept theirs?

This is a good question to keep in mind when dealing with all types of conflict – for in accepting our role we can hopefully contribute towards resolution rather than escalation.

Are you curious about how you can change your mindset around conflict, for the better? A great place to begin is one of our on-demand webinars, such as Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Defensiveness. Through these accessible online courses, our team of experts share proven tools of the trade on how to transform conflict into something constructive. Experience the positive benefits of conflict resolution techniques by getting started today.

Uh-oh: What happens when we react to conflict poorly?

Hiker gazing at trail crossroads: double down or take responsibility

Initiating change is hard – it’s much easier to go along with the momentum of what’s familiar. And yet, there are times when we need to embrace something different.

On this blog, often we take the theoretical carrot approach to conflict: spotlighting the positive aspects of behaviour that we want to cultivate so as to inspire us to put in hard work to shift our habits. But sometimes it’s useful to take the theoretical stick approach to conflict: focusing on what we don’t want to happen in order to avoid the associated outcomes.

So today, let’s explore a darker timeline.

The year is 2031. Robert Blithe (colloquially known as Boisterous Bob) has been promoted to middle management in Future Company Co. Known for his notorious bluntness, he brings a new flavour to the leadership team – one that is strong and unyielding.

Bob’s door frequently swings open as he begins his tenure. One might assume that this equates to an "open door" policy – but in reality, it is a management style that more resembles a "revolving door."

Though arguably his strength, Bob’s bluntness has also been stirring up conflict and ruffling feathers amongst his staff. One by one, people have funnelled into his office to broach uncomfortable discussions. And one after another, they have stumbled out feeling frustrated and unheard.

Inevitably the same issues come up again and again, in an ongoing cycle without resolution. Bob staunchly believes his brash my way or the highway approach is what earned him the position and that standing his ground, on even the little things, will keep him there.

After a year, the stream of complaints wanes and eventually stops coming. Bob’s meeting calendar grows quiet. He feels justified and doubles down on his approach, reinforcing this take it or leave it character trait deeper. But the viewpoint of the staff around him does not match his perceived success. By not working together to reach resolutions, distrust has established itself. People have stopped frequenting Boisterous Bob’s door because of a new reputation he has developed: that of being defensive, closed-minded, and unapproachable.

The issues have not disappeared – instead, they have shifted underground because people don’t feel safe opening up to Bob. So, where do things go from here?

In one timeline, Future Company Co loses a bunch of good employees that, after trying to make things work, quietly move on to workplaces where they feel empowered. Indeed, they are embracing the leave it option of Bob’s philosophy. Turning our gaze to another timeline, Bob is sent to a Mediation Services training on Building a Respectful Workplace. Through study, workshopping, and reflection, he uncovers layers about the role he has played in the drama of conflict – over time, accepting responsibility for what might come to be realized as poor actions.

A lone person in a fortified castle, wondering why no one approaches them to talk

What happens if we act poorly in the face of conflict? Evidently from Boisterous Bob, quite a bit. For example:

  1. We create a barrier in communication
  2. We add another issue to the agenda
  3. The issue takes precedence over other concerns
  4. An obstacle is added to existing conflict and performance issues
  5. As a result, we damage relationships and breed mistrust

And yet: when we make mistakes, we often double down on our position.

Our intentions are complex, including conscious and unconscious motivations. We experience cognitive dissonance when we’ve invested time / money / reputation / effort in some activity that turns out to be wrong or foolish. From here, we can either choose a path of self-justification or one where we take responsibility. It is a crossroads that has deep ramifications; choosing to double down will reinforce an old behaviour that, down the road, makes it even harder to take responsibility.

The good news is we are not alone in this because we all make mistakes! And yes, it is good news, because along with this fact comes the permission to accidentally make a mess and then try again. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does tend to make better.

If you’d like to follow Boisterous Bob into a timeline informed by training that Mediation Services offers, we invite you to enrol in our Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Defensiveness online courses. They provide solid foundations for dealing with conflict in both the present and future. And as to the inevitable tangles of the past, we can work with those as well.

Timing: Conflict and the art of procrastination.

A graph of emotional intensity over time

It’s summer, and the revolving door of people coming and going on vacation is constantly spinning. Dynamics shift, paths cross, and other paths…miss each other. In this irregular season, lingering conflict has a tendency to get pushed off until there’s a better time to deal with it.

Yet there will never be a perfect moment, and waiting for one only prolongs the process of resolution. Worse, procrastination gives underlying issues, even if they’re little, time to build up into bigger ones. Before we know it, we can find ourselves living with a baseline of emotional tension that is much more difficult to untangle than it once would have been.

Does this mean that when your colleague returns from two weeks at the lake with his family you should jump on him with your flood of frustrations as soon as they enter the office? Probably not. On this other end of the timing spectrum, we can react too quickly as well.

To quote Dr. Frumi Rachel Barr, an executive coach:

"The truth is that many confrontations fail not because others are bad and wrong, but because we handle them poorly."

Put another way: with a little more thoughtfulness, we could have delivered our message a little less poorly – and so our timing of difficult conversations is oft as important as what we say.

When we challenge people, we need to understand that how we say something affects its reception. In so doing, we develop our capacity to learn how to tell people things in a way that is simultaneously honest and kind. Not only does this allow us to try being the best version of ourselves, but it also gives the same opportunity to the other person as well. Because, like it or not, the wrong words trigger a biological defensive response that can get in the way of us thinking clearly.

A teddy bear looks into a mirror and sees a grizzly bear

In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to react by instinct. We think: If I deal with something directly, then it won’t be hanging over me as long, right?

Sometimes – but many times not. A defensive response that’s biological can feel like instinct, but it also is a state where we are not thinking clearly. And if our reaction triggers a defensive response in the other person, they will act before thinking as well. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth…it’s easy to see how a small issue can quickly escalate into a much bigger one.

The defensive surge from our heightened sense of readiness takes 20 minutes to an hour to dissipate. During that time we are unable to think clearly, and the length of such a state of mind becomes even longer if somebody does something more to keep it going…which unfortunately is too often what happens (remember that back-and-forth vibe?). Such situations can be very difficult to walk away from.

It often takes a night’s sleep to reset the hormones released in a defensive state. So whether we recognize defensiveness arising in ourselves or others, it’s worth remembering that we might not be at our best.

When feeling the clouded perspective of defensiveness, it’s okay to say: "I’m willing to talk about this. Can we pick this up tomorrow?" Ask for what you need. Or, offer what you need.

Evidently, there is a line to be walked between reacting too quickly and procrastinating.

Process trumps content. What is most problematic about conflict is often how it is dealt with, rather than the original situation itself. An ill-delivered message can make an awkward conversation absolutely impossible and untenable for the other person – which serves no one.

None of us will ever arrive at perfection. But with practice and perseverance we can all get a little better at dealing with it, mitigating escalations and pursuing conflict resolution.

We can’t tell you whether now is the right moment to deal with any persistent conflict in your life, but we can (and do) ask you to consider: when would the right time be?

If you’d like to dive deeper into understanding your relationship with conflict, our Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Defensiveness online courses offer foundations that are recommended for all.

We are here to support you. Contact us with any questions and let’s get the conversation going.

Practice, Perseverance, and Hope: Consistent effort yields results.

Perseverence: The hill is not always this steep

We share a lot of tips and tricks for dealing with conflict on this blog. Based on decades of experience working in the field, we know they are tried and true – but it might be a little daunting for the uninitiated. When these concepts are new, a typical response might be: "Easier said than done."

And that wouldn’t be wrong! It is undoubtedly difficult to learn new habits – yet let the mere fact that you found your way to reading this be an encouragement that you’re ready to start. Because when we are struggling, we are more likely to open up to trying something new. In this case, starting work around conflict that will pay off in relational dividends throughout the rest of our lives.

Neuroscience tells us that you teach an old dog new tricks (no we’re not calling you a dog, but yes we’re talking about you). And as with most things, it gets easier with practice.

What comes to mind when you hear the word practice?

Often our thoughts drift back to memories of formative years of play – chasing whatever ball, puck, or cute teenager caught our eye at the community centre. Were any of us born natural prodigies at any one of these? Not likely.

With the hindsight and perspective of an adult looking on from the stands watching a group of kids haphazardly chase the sports ball or lover that catches their eye…well, it is obvious there is some room for improvement.

And we do improve! That is, with practice. And practice can only happen if we go through the awkward beginning phase. At first, it takes a lot of conscious thought to muddle through even the basics – left-foot then right-foot, or perhaps mustering up a squeaky hello. But after some consistent and persistent trying, what once took a lot of effort sinks into our bones and becomes natural. The burgeoning sports player rises out of the little leagues, and the budding romantic moves on to deeper relationships.

What if we could bring this concept of practice to learning how to deal with life’s unavoidable conflicts? Sure we may not be great at it to start, but we can certainly get better over time. And with some humility, we can mitigate any of the inevitable fumbles we make along the way.

Store clerk saying to customer: Sorry, we're out of undo buttons. Can I interest you in a try again button instead?

What might get us started in learning how to better deal with conflict? Usually, it’s when we are mired in struggle. A divisive situation rears its ugly head in our personal lives – troubles with a neighbour, partner, or coworker, for example – and we find ourselves in a position where we’ve tried everything and are still stuck. Seeking a path forward, we cast our gaze outwards – and that’s where organizations like Mediation Services exist to resource you with learning and mediation.

Still, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to relationships. As much as we might wish for clarity, each situation is unique and our relationships are doubly so. But guidelines, such as the ones we post about here, can serve as a process for dealing with uncomfortable situations openly and with agility.

With careful action, we can find freedom in the complexity – that is, if we can let go of expectation. But that’s an especially hard thing to do when it is our longing for change that prompted action in the first place.

Hope is a driving force, but it’s important to remember that the desired outcome behind it is never guaranteed. While we can point ourselves in a certain direction, the complexities involved go beyond our individuality and much cannot be controlled (like, for instance, the person we’re in conflict with). Holding on to a hopeful expectation too tightly can lead to disappointment – even if the middle ground we land on is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

The reality is that when conflict arises, the only path forward is through it. There is no undo button – instead a claiming of responsibility for our actions and subsequently the actions that come next.

While holding on to hope, we also need to loosen our grip on what its final goal might look like. Even when we’re not a beginner anymore, it’s important to remember we are never an expert that is perfect / unwavering / all-knowing either.

Hope is a way of moving through the world with agility. Held softly, it allows us to meet both the highs and lows with a little more grace, forgiveness, and resilience.

Mediation Services is here to support you in your relationship (or relationships) with conflict. Online and in-person learning opportunities are continuously available, and with them our hope is to resource you for that which you face.

If you find yourself in need of deeper support for your relational divides, please get in touch to embrace the assistance of a third-party mediator: fill out an intake form or simply start a conversation about options by sending us a message via our contact form.

Whatever your next steps, remember to frame your best efforts within the iterative structure of practice. Be soft with yourself in the process of figuring it out – and don’t give up.

Respect: Teaching you to teach your team.

Two people jumping in the air and giving each other a high five

It’s one thing to accept responsibility for the conflict in your own life, but it’s a whole different can-of-worms to take on responsibility for managing conflict for a team of individuals.

When we find ourselves in a position of leadership, the ideas we put forth have an outsized effect. Case and (kind of) point: changing coffee brands stocked in the office kitchen is not quite the same as switching up your beans at home. It impacts all the caffeine lovers you work with – and even those who aren’t into coffee, because the altered vibes of the undercaffeinated will surely affect them secondhand.

And while coffee makes the world go round, so too does the training an employee receives: the skills and knowledge garnered cascade outwards, creating a company culture bigger than any one person.

This means that our choices around employee training have a lot of potential. This can be bad news: one misguided decision can be amplified in its not-so-great results. This can also be good news, because by the same measure the beneficial impact of a well-considered choice is also magnified.

Like it or not, decisions have more weight when matched with a larger circle of influence.

Are you a leader in a group that is struggling with disrespect amongst the ranks? You’re not alone, and we can help shift from the bad news situation to the good news one – while simultaneously establishing a respectful foundation for everyone to stand upon thereafter.

Conflict is as unique as each of us – different contexts and circumstances require different ways to address the needs around each of them. It begs the question: if we all play different roles and everything is so situational, what do I do?

Are you an individual? Great! There are many things that each of us can do to arm ourselves with tools to tackle conflict that naturally arises on a personal level. You can solve your own problems, which is empowering in the face of challenge.

Are you part of an organization? Also good. Wherever we may be in the pecking order, we can play our part in the drama of disrespect as best we can (as the target, source, observer, or authority) – a bottom-up or lateral approach.

Are you a leader or part of their support team? This is an area of amplified impact with potential to be embraced. It’s important to ensure a healthy top-down culture within a company / team / organization, thereby avoiding unnecessary costs of disrespect in the workplace.

A group sits in a circle of the Mediation Services office doing a workshop together

A collective effort is required to shift company culture. When developing our online course, Building a Respectful Workplace, we designed it to be accessible to all – regardless of one’s role in the hierarchy (read about it’s fit here). In fact, the course makes a very convenient component of an employee onboarding process.

However, sometimes we need a little more specificity. In addition to the standalone course, there is the option to add on a training bundle that is specifically designed for companies and consultants to offer this training live and in-person. In reaping the rewards of this training, why not go all the way? There is added value and depth in going through the exercises as a team, while offering an opportunity to embody mutual support in dealing with uncomfortable situations.

The upgraded training package that we have available for trainers includes access to the aforementioned online webinar, plus all the digital manuals and training notes (timeline, activities, etc) for you to implement this course as part of what is already offered internally.

To make this add-on option truly effective, we insist on getting to know you and your organization a little bit first. This allows us to custom tailor the training to your needs. As such, the upgrade isn’t listed in our online store, but the path to completing the package is simple:

  1. Open a conversation by sending us a message (through our contact form (or email us directly) and tell us a bit about yourself and your needs.
  2. We collaborate on tailoring the training to you and your workplace.
  3. You lead your own in-person Building a Respectful Workplace training with resounding success!

The most important step is to begin the conversation. From there we can work out the next actions to establish a training regimen for you – integrating with existing policies and extending new ones. In the process, we’ll figure out the details together so that you can lead your own in-person program, brimming with knowledge and confidence.

Disrespect in the workplace isn’t new, nor are trainings offering ideas to cultivate respectful environments. What makes our course stand apart?

Since 1979, we have accumulated a wealth of experience in mediation and conflict resolution, with an approach grounded in listening and appropriate action. Our tried-and-true methodologies allow issues of disrespect to be dealt with head on before unnecessarily escalation. By placing the emphasis on human relations, we create desirable and productive workplaces – and wise and effective leaders.

Don’t let the little things pile up to become big things. We empower you to empower yourselves. Take hold of the reins. Part of leadership is establishing the healthy foundational practices within the context of the organization so that it can operate smoothly; this training wholeheartedly supports you in doing just that.

We hope to hear from you soon.

Blurry Lines: The continuum of disrespect.

Illustration of a grey blob with words indicating confusion around it

When it comes to extreme behaviour, it’s pretty clear when something is unacceptable. If a stapler is thrown across the room in a fit of rage, most of us would agree that we’re getting a no feeling from the situation. But it’s not always so obvious.

Disrespect often takes a subtler form, and in this grey area it can be difficult to decipher. While subjectivity in each of our perceived experiences plays a part, it doesn’t absolve microinequities and microagressions.

That said, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: sometimes we don’t like the direction that someone gives us but that doesn’t make it disrespectful. When someone gives us feedback at work, for example, we might feel uncomfortable – but maybe that’s a necessary component of the job and the hierarchies that are a part of it.

In many of the roles that we play throughout life, an integral aspect is assigning work, getting critical feedback, and managing performance on both an individual and collective basis. Critique, instruction, orders…these are necessary aspects of interbeing, and are neither good nor bad in themselves. Either way, they can be uncomfortable.

Illustrated line with indications showing a shift from acceptable to unacceptable behaviour

Respect and disrespect exist on a continuum together, and the line between them is a blurry one. Yet it’s an important aspect to consider because it helps us understand the difference between acceptable behaviour and one requiring a response.

Was that valid constructive criticism from our boss or a personal attack? It isn’t always as clear as a flying stapler. As such, reactions to situations straddling this line should be tempered to match the situation – a direct conversation being a good starting point before hiring a lawyer.

At the other end of the spectrum however, unacceptable behaviour is unquestionably so. In these cases our ways of addressing it need to scale appropriately – utilizing the resources available to us to enter an informal resolution process, making a formal complaint, or, if it feels safe, taking immediate intervention. In taking action we avoid the additive trouble that comes from procrastinating tough situations.

While it may not be as simple as we wish, the result is walking a path with integrity and due diligence – and hopefully cleaning up more messes than we make. Undoubtedly, emotions will bubble up but remember: feelings are not facts and we need to be aware that our biology programs us to react defensively. Of course we need to be cautious of belittling comments, gestures, and personal attacks, but it requires a bit of reflection and thinking beyond oneself to perceive situations clearly.

Reading a situation wrong and overreacting also has cascading impacts to be wary of. Inflated accusations of harm tend to deflect responsibility, shun the other party, or shut down the conversation altogether. Unless your goal is to hurt the feelings of the other person, it can not only escalate conflict but also create it out of nowhere.

As such, it is worthwhile to consider the continuum of disrespect when we feel uncomfortable and are uncertain if it’s acceptable or not. We can find appropriate reactions by identifying when acceptable behaviour spills over into behaviour requiring a response.

Dealing with conflict is one thing, but acknowledging situations where there is the potential for it to be created is the other side of it. Conflict may be natural, but it arises from the continuous flow of actions and reactions in the relationships of our life. In this, each of us inevitably plays a part. 

If you find yourself today in a conflict and a direct conversation hasn’t moved things toward resolution, our team at Mediation Services can help. Get in touch and we can connect you with one of our trained third-party mediators. Or, if you’re an organization, reach out about scheduling a trainer to come into your workplace to lead a workshop teaching options to be used internally.

We also have an ever-expanding collection of free resources here on our blog and through our newsletter, which we hope will serve you in your own life. And for those interested in self-directed study, our on-demand webinar offerings are a great starting point.

When an extreme action seems to arise out of nowhere, it probably didn’t actually rise out of nowhere. Looking closely, we can carefully choose our reaction accordingly.

Definitions: The difference between conflict and disrespect.

Side-by-side dictionary page sketches for Conflict and Disrespect

A question for you: is there a difference between conflict and disrespect? Or, are they instead synonyms for exactly the same thing?

If you answered, "Yes – they’re different!" but the person next to you happened to answer, "Nope – obviously they’re interchangeable", this illustrates a tricky issue we run into with language. Sometimes each of us uses the same word but with a different intended meaning. This runs the risk of having gaps of understanding in our communications, where we unwittingly are not talking about the same thing.

So let’s get clear what we’re talking about here with some definitions.

  • Conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce rewards, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals.
  • Disrespect is disregard for the feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions of others.

Now, with this shared foundation laid, consider the question again: is there a difference between conflict and disrespect?

Healthy conflict is about issues and ideas. It is an inherent part of life because none of us are separate from others. Relationships and the friction that comes along with them are inevitable.

Disrespect, on the other hand, is about behaviour. Shouting, threats, swearing, unsolicited/unwelcome contact, gestures…these inappropriate actions erode trust, loyalty, and commitment that one would hope to have in all their relations.

When we are overwhelmed by emotion in the heat of the moment, it can be tricky to distinguish between natural conflict and uncalled for disrespect. Yet, in these moments especially, it’s important to understand their differences in order to identify which is at play and what skillful actions might be taken.

Conflict does not equal disrespect banner

Take for instance an example that is all too familiar: you’re working on a project with a colleague and facing a hard deadline in one month. The two of you are having a meeting about how to schedule the tasks that need to be done. As a self-identified planner, you know that an organized and steady approach of chunking the work week-by-week is a recipe for success. Your co-worker on the other hand, staunchly believes that the best way to optimize time is to wait until the last week by chunking all the work together at once.

As you pore over your calendars together, you can’t help but notice your colleague rolling their eyes at you – emphasized by the loud sighs voicing their annoyance. Flustered by this behaviour but unsure of what to do next, you calmly explain your reasoning for wanting to meet once a week but it falls on unlistening ears. Their if it weren’t for the last minute nothing would get done philosophy runs deep.

All of a sudden your colleague turns red and flatly declares, "Only a fool would need to take a whole month to get this done! Ugh, this is so ridiculous!" With that, they push themselves away from the desk and stomp out the room, leaving you aghast and alone – without a plan for what to do next.

What just happened?

In this situation, there was a conflict between you and your colleague over how to manage the time spent on a project together. This unresolved conflict became an act of disrespect when your colleague began rolling their eyes and…escalating.

When we are in a place of unresolved conflict or tensions, disrespect tends to arise from its troubled seeds. And so, while different in their essence, the two concepts also exist in relation to each other.

Acts of disrespect are generally unwarranted, and most certainly unwelcome. Nonetheless, if we have been the recipient of disrespect, the way we respond can make all the difference between bringing the conversation back around to resolving the conflict, or slinging more acts of disrespect to and fro. And even before that, we need to clarify if we’ve experienced conflict or disrespect.

Dealing with conflict is important for each and every one of us. Fractured relationships, uncomfortable coexistence, and job dissatisfaction are all too common – but they don’t have to be this way. Here at Mediation Services we’ve facilitated many happy endings (or, at the very least, respectful continuations) in-person since 1979 and now online since 2020.

Born from experience, we highly recommend our keystone online course that is Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Dealing with Difficult People. Conflict is in all of our lives, and we owe it to ourselves and our communities to find non-competitive win-win solutions in the face of differing beliefs.

Beyond this general resource there are always places where we can dive in more specifically, and one area of clear need is in the relationships surrounding our jobs. As we explored in the aforementioned example, disrespect in the workplace is an all too familiar thing. Unaddressed, a culture of disrespect can quickly add up to employee dissatisfaction, performance problems, and a self-perpetuating cycle of more disrespect.

Our specialized webinar on Building a Respectful Workplace deals with dynamics within these complex spaces directly. Through acknowledgment, reflection on our role(s), and subsequent action, we can each play our part in creating work environments that we enjoy spending our days in. Read more about what this offering includes here or feel free to reach out directly for wider advice on facilitating respectful workplaces and spaces beyond.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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