I was teaching a workshop on conflict resolution and I was at the part where we talked about AA.
Not that AA.
Rather an attitude adjustment.
It was part of my Learning and Development Roundtable – Resolve conflict with confidence and clarity using these six simple skills.
I created the exercise when I was facing a tough interpersonal conflict myself.
I used the activity and it made a big difference.
Like really big. I was able to see the conflict in a whole new light.
I had more choices and options for navigating my way through the conflict.
So I decided to share it.
But a funny thing happened along the way.
First, let me tell you what was supposed to happen.
How to get an Attitude Adjustment (A.A.):
- Think of a conflict you’re facing.
- Grab a piece of paper and make three columns.
- Label them one, two, and three.
- In the first column summarize the conflict. Describe it. No Ph.D. thesis is required. Just make bullet points.
- Then in the second column describe your original attitude. Write down how you feel. Seriously. Dig into those feelings. Jot them down.
- Now here’s the tricky part (and where the surprise came in). In the third column write down alternatives. Bend your brain and come up with alternatives for what could be causing the conflict. For example alternatives for what’s making the person you’re in conflict with act the way they are. Have some fun and be as creative as you can. This is a great way to bust up any assumptions you may be making.
Use your brainstormed alternatives in column three to pave the way for some alternatives for moving forward. I promise that column three will help you come up with more options and choices. Which is wonderful when you’re feeling stuck in an ugly conflict.
Here’s an example.
Column one – describe the conflict:
Example conflict: My colleague keeps missing deadlines which is affecting my ability to meet my deadlines. Deadlines are repeatedly getting dashed.
Column two – describe my original attitude / how I feel about the conflict:
- My professional reputation is really important to me and I feel angry that he’s disregarding the deadlines.
- It’s embarrassing when we have to tell our team that we’re late yet again.
- I’m fed up, overwhelmed, and thoroughly frustrated.
- This shouldn’t be happening.
- It’s so simple! Just hit the deadline due date dude.
- He just doesn’t care – about the work, me, our relationship. the team, etc.
- He’s lazy.
Column three – Attitude Adjustment:
- Alternative one: hmmm. We’re using a new project management tool. When I come to think of it, I know he really struggles with tech tools. Maybe he isn’t comfortable with the tool and doesn’t want to ask for help. Maybe he’s embarrassed about not being able to use the tool with is affecting his ability to hit the deadlines.
- Alternative two: When I stop to think about it, he’s been looking different lately. He’s lost a ton of weight. Maybe he’s doing his absolute best under some critical health concerns.
- Alternative three: I know we had that intercultural conflict resolution workshop a while back where they talked about passport country cultures, generational differences in culture, etc. We have different passport cultures and we’re two decades apart in our age. I wonder if that could have something to do with our issues.
- Alternative four: I remember years ago taking a literacy tutoring course and was gobsmacked to learn that 48% of Canadians have literacy issues (Conference Board of Canada). I also learned how shameful people tend to feel about literacy issues. I worked with a tremendously successful horse breeder, who couldn’t read or write a word. Hmmmm. Maybe there’s more going on here than I thought. Maybe there are literacy issues.
And that’s it.
It’s supposed to get you out of your head. Notice how column two is all about me and my feelings, whereas column three is a big shift to thinking about him and his perspective.
The exercise is supposed to lead to more expansive thinking about how to move forward with the conflict. It’s supposed to lead to more informed options for taking action.
Or that was the goal at any rate.
Remember I mentioned a funny thing that happened when I was teaching this technique?
Let me tell you about it.
People had a REALLY hard time with the attitude adjustment. Instead of coming up with alternatives, and different ways to look at the situation, every single person skipped right to the action.
Instead of column three being an attitude adjustment it was filled with action items focused on themselves. Things like being empathetic, listening well, etc.
Those are all actions. They’re not about altering your attitude.
Action is really important but it comes later.
Back to you.
Now it’s your turn. Try the activity in order to entertain (even just slightly) some other options. And be sure to avoid taking action just yet. There’ll be time for that later.
Time to open up possibilities about how to move forward.
I can hear you grumbling from here. The point is to open up some options and not get stuck in your thinking and your assumptions. The person may truly be an unfeeling, lazy, horrible team player with awful time management skills but I’ve done myself and my stress level some good by considering options.
Now go on and learn, laugh, and lead
- Think of a conflict you’re facing and try on an Attitude Adjustment using the three-column exercise.
- Get some clarity with how you’re seeing the situation and be delighted like this toddler seeing clearly for the first time.
- Based on your new Attitude Adjustment, create some (more fully informed) action items for moving forward.
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