There may be no more essential skill than successfully handling yourself in conflict.  Many a career has been ruined when executives mishandled themselves when mired in an important disagreement.

As a coach, I’m frequently invited to help pastors when they’re in conflict.   One of the most important techniques is to invite my clients to go for altitude.

Altitude. 

Elevation.

Perspective.

When you’re embroiled in a conflict, it’s natural to get tunnel vision.  All you can see is your adversary, their claims, and your defenses.  And, because you’re human, you’re probably focused on your defenses most of all… or the fastest way out of the room!

What you don’t see is what’s going on between you, inside each of you, and often what’s driving both of you.

Imagine the two of you, standing toe-to-toe, in boxer’s stance, locked in conflict.  Just a few feet away is a staircase, leading to a balcony. From the balcony, there is much you can see that you just can’t see down on the floor…

2 balconyI invite you to climb the stairs, up to the balcony, and look down… observe the two of you.

The beauty of the balcony is that almost immediately you’re able to access resources (perspective, objectivity, even clarity) that’s elusive down on the floor.  Up there, you’re a safe distance away from your adversary.  He’s not bounded up the steps after you, in a bloodthirsty rage.

Cooly and dispassionately, from up there you can observe yourself and the other person.  You can replay the videotape in your memory of the last interaction, or of several of them.  Eventually you’ll even be able to identify the missteps that landed you in this mess.

From up there, what can you see that could be motivating your adversary?  When you separate their tone, and method, and manner, what did she actually say?  What can you agree with?  What can you discover that could be behind her words?

From up there, what do you notice that you may have done, or left undone, to contribute to the breakdown?  Now, I didn’t say you caused the breakdown.  Yet, you have a contribution.  From up there, what can you see?

From up there, what do you notice about how you’ve responded to the accusation so far?  What do you notice about your mood, tone of voice, posture-of-heart? How well would you say you handled yourself?  What might your response have communicated, that you did not intend?

Give yourself permission to actually do this.  Stop defending yourself, pleading your innocence, or attacking the other person long enough to get up to the balcony… pause, and look.  Be curious about what you’ve overlooked so far.  Allow the balcony to resource you.

This isn’t just theory.  I use the balcony when coaching myself.  I encourage you to do the same.

Let me know how it goes!