Taking care of yourself during a workplace conflict

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Handle conflict better by taking care of yourself first.

This is part two of the three-part series, Taking Care of Yourself Before, During, and After a Workplace Conflict.

Assuming you’ve found yourself in conflict at work (which is inevitable, by the way), I want to share some thoughts about how you can take care of yourself and, as a result, participate meaningfully. This is so important because if you’re not able to quiet all of the bells and whistles going off in your body that are telling you to punch your counterpart in the face or run out of the conference room, you won’t be able to transform the conflict into something positive.

Here are three quick and easy things you can do to improve your chances of getting out of this conflict with increased empathy, better problem-solving skills, and an outcome that you can live with (or might even like):

  1. Be kind to yourself. The only thing you have control over in conflict is you. Conflicts can bring up a lot in us – fear, anger, sadness, the list goes on. Our emotions have physical expressions: a knot in the stomach, shortness of breath, sweating, or shaking. These emotions and physical expressions are signals that we feel endangered, which can be helpful, but in the case of an interpersonal or organizational conflict, they cloud our ability to intuit clearly. Berating yourself for having these emotions or physical symptoms makes it even worse. So if you feel like you’re going to throw up because your boss isn’t understanding you, try not to tell yourself that you’re a terrified piece of shit; instead, you can say to yourself, “I recognize that I’m afraid, and that’s totally okay”. Then take a big, deep breath and tell your boss what you need.
  2. So many deep breaths. When our bodies go into the “fight or flight” response, we start to breathe quickly and from the chest, which is shallow breathing. This means our brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to support our high-level executive functioning – the stuff that helps us feel, think, and negotiate clearly. If you can only remember one thing from this post, it’s this: just take a few deep belly breaths. Here’s how.
  3. Ground yourself. When our systems are escalated, we can lose our connection to our bodies and to the earth, causing us to feel totally out of sorts and unable to be present with what is happening in and around us. To reconnect with the here and now, simply feel yourself sitting in your chair or feel the clothes on your body. If you’re standing, imagine your feet rooting into the earth below your office building. Grounding yourself will make you feel centered and calm.

By taking care of yourself during conflict, you’re better able to see the other person(s) that you’re in conflict with as total, complex human beings who are also dealing with emotions that are sending them lots of “Danger!” signals. Once you’re more connected to the shared humanity of those you’re in conflict with, you can think more creatively about how to transform it into something that is meaningful for everyone involved.

Stay tuned for Taking Care of Yourself After a Workplace Conflict! 

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