What’s Your Conflict Style?

Two people facing the same conflict will often respond in entirely different ways. A response that feels easy, practical, and effective for one person may prove to be quite challenging for another. Thomas, K.W., and R.H. Kilmann, creators of the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, identified five primary conflict styles that people tend to use. Although we may vary the style we use depending on nature the conflict situation, most of us tend to fall back on one style that feels most comfortable – even if it’s not particularly helpful. No one style is perfect. They are all helpful in some situations and unhelpful in others. Understanding the various conflict styles, your personal preference, and the pros and cons of each one can help you become more adaptive and effective at managing conflicts. Read on to learn about each conflict style!

Style: Competing
What it is: This is an aggressive approach to conflict where your focus is primarily on achieving the outcomes you desire. The needs, feelings, or desires of the other party are not of much concern, and you “winning” may come at the expense of the other losing.
What it sounds like: “My way or the highway”. “This is how it is going to happen.” “My way is best.”
When it’s helpful: In situations where quick action is needed, such as emergencies or instances of harassment, bullying, or other threatening behavior that is endangering other’s safety and well-being.
When it’s not helpful: This style is not helpful in most conflict situations. In cases where important relationships are at stake, it is important to take other’s ideas and feeling into account. And when complex problems arise, you’ll need the creativity, innovation, and open communication that comes from collaboration and compromise.

Style: Accommodating
What it is: This is a passive approach to conflict where you tend to put aside your own thoughts, feelings, and desires in order to honor those of others. You may do this because you want to maintain harmonious relationships, or because you trust high a high degree of trust in another and believe their course of action is most likely best.
What it sounds like: “Sure, whatever you say.” “You probably know best.”
When it’s helpful: When you are lacking understanding or experience and others whom you trust have a higher level of expertise. Or, when an issue simply isn’t critical or important to you.
When it’s not helpful: When you have an important/valid concerns, opinions, or contributions that are important to share for your own well-being and/or that of others.

Style: Avoiding

What it is: Unsurprisingly, this response to conflict involves an almost total lack of engagement. You attempt to simply “check out” or not deal with a conflict situation. Your not working to achieve your goals, but your also not actively trying to prevent the other party from achieving their own.
What it sounds like: “I’m not going to stick my neck out.” “I can’t deal with this.” “It’s not worth it.”
When it’s helpful: When you’re dealing with a conflict over an issue that is trivial and you don’t want to waste time or energy dealing with it. It may also be useful in situations where you know that you have little hope of changing the outcome regardless of your actions. Additionally, this style can prevent you from being sucked into a conflict situation between others that doesn’t need your involvement.
When it’s not helpful: When your primary motivator for not engaging in the conflict is fear or discomfort and your well-being and/or that of others is significantly suffering because of unresolved issues. Most important issues won’t go away by simply ignoring them, so by not acting you are simply pro-longing the problem.

Style: Compromising

What it is: In this approach to conflict the primary focus is fairness. You are willing to give up or concede certain things with the expectation that the other party will do the same. In this way, neither party get’s exactly what they want, but they hopefully both get what they need. Compromising can be an effective way to overcome gridlock and find resolution. However, it can also lead to unsatisfying outcomes for both parties.
What it sounds like: “I’d be willing to______, if you’d be willing to_____.” “Let’s make a deal.”
When it’s helpful: When there are multiple options/solutions available to help parties meet their respective needs, and both individuals are willing to be flexible about the strategies they use to get their needs met.
When it’s not helpful: The issues parties bring to a conflict may not always have equal importance or validity. Additionally, sometimes individuals’ feelings are not the greatest issues at stake. In such cases, trying to reach a resolution where both parties are equally satisfied may be impossible or even destructive in the long-term.

Style: Collaborative

What it is: This approach involves framing conflicts as a situational or system problem rather than a clash between individuals’ personalities. It’s not about winning or losing but working together to find innovative solutions that work well for everyone. It can lead to enhanced problem-solving, unity, and creative thinking.
What it sounds like: “Let’s see if we can figure this out.” “Two heads are better than one.”
When it’s helpful:
Collaboration works well in environments where individuals retain respect and trust for another, despite the conflicts at hand, and are willing to work together to explore new approaches.
When it’s not helpful: This approach is complex and time-consuming so it doesn’t always work well in situations where there are major time constraints. Additionally, collaboration is nearly impossible in situations where there are high levels of hostility, blame, and contempt and parties are less concerned with finding solutions and more concerned with making the other party lose.

I’d love to hear from you! What do you think of these styles? which one do you think you use most often? Which one would be most helpful to use more and what do you need to be able to do that?

About Me: I help individuals mindfully navigate personal and professional conflicts and enhance their quality of life. I’m a certified coach, a trained mediator, and have an M.A. in Peace Education. I offer Conflict Coaching and Mindful Life and Leadership Coaching (in-person or via phone/Skype), as well as conflict resolution workshops and trainings. Contact me to learn more.

The Tao of Tantrum: Practicing Presence in the Grocery Store

Here we are, less than 5 seconds after stepping into the grocery store, in full-on tantrum mode.

I was aware that this could happen. Although childless, I’ve witnessed my share of grocery store melt-downs from afar. “That poor mother/father,” I’d think, as I quickly moved into the safety of the next aisle. I, myself, had tormented my parents numerous times there, realizing early in life that the embarrassment of a screaming child in public could make even the strongest of parents cower into purchasing delicious, neon-colored, high-fructose corn syrup concoctions against their will and better judgement.

Now here I was, on the receiving end. So, yes, I knew this was possible.

But, oh, I had such high hopes. I had watched my friends’ two children (aged 6 and 7) for a few hours here and there; but now their parents were out of town and I was babysitting for two days. It was the longest I’d ever consecutively watched them – or any children, for that matter.

I had many lovely visions of what we would do together, one of which included cooking up some fabulous dessert. So here we were at the grocery store. We’d happily pick out the ingredients, then we’d go home and make it together, and proudly eat it after dinner. Beautiful, no?

Instead, immediately upon stepping into the store, they spotted a toy car attached to a shopping cart that they both had to sit in. Except they wouldn’t both fit. Cue the melt-down of two children and all my idyllic dessert dreams.

My first reaction was to immediately try to make the yelling and crying stop. Unfortunately, I had little idea of how to do this and my efforts had no effect. After about 5 minutes of thrashing and whining they worked it out – kind of. One stayed in the toy car and started pretending to loudly shoot the surrounding fruits and veggies, while the other started pushing the cart into just about everything.

I felt frustrated and embarrassed. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to go!” I thought. They’re being too loud, too clumsy, too emotional, and too disruptive, etc. Stressed and anxious about what might happen next, and my own lack of control over it, I was tempted to turn around and just give up.

Then, suddenly, I had a thought.

“It is what it is.”

I realized could hold onto my previous expectations and make myself (and them) miserable by trying to force the shopping trip to be as smooth as I had hoped, and getting upset when it wasn’t. Or I could let go of my expectations of how this experience should be, and instead accept it as it is and just try to be fully present. I chose the latter. Almost immediately, I felt my body relax.

For the next 30 minutes or 3 hours (I lost track of time), we slowly wandered the aisles, occasionally bumping into things, but doing no real damage. When destructive behavior arose, I talked to them about it and discussed consequences, but I was able to do so pretty calmly. I wasn’t afraid of another melt-down. If it happened, it happened. We’d all survive.

I actually found myself starting to enjoy our little shopping trip. Stepping back from my own desires, fears, and expectations, I could see the situation more clearly.

They were just kids being kids, trying to have fun, trying to navigate this new situation as best they could. I could laugh at some of their more ridiculous behaviors (such as begging me to buy them an 8-pack of Gatorade), be patient towards the hold-ups (we need to find a bathroom right now!), feel understanding and compassion for their feelings and desires, and brush off the occasional cold glance or unreturned smile from another shopper (whatever).

The shopping trip was slower, louder, and bumpier than I had wanted, but that was ok. There was value, joy, and beauty to be had in what I had actually got.

I was rather amazed at the power of simple acceptance. What if I applied more of this kind of grocery store approach to my everyday life more often? What if we all did?

We spend our lives attempting to gain pleasure and avoid suffering. Suffering occurs for various reasons, one of which is things not going how we want them to.

Most of us have a particular idea of what should – or is supposed to – happen in our work, relationships, free time, etc. We can become very attached to these ideas, and have a hard time letting go of them. This can make us rigid and inflexible, and disconnected from the present moment. When we become overly attached to our ideas of how things should be, we become less responsive to, and appreciative of, things as they actually are.

When something happens other than what we wanted or expected, we may attempt to suppress or avoid it. As a result, we suffer not only from the unpleasantness of the situation, but also from all the added strain we put on ourselves.

While my Dad was dying from cancer last year, my feelings of sadness, anger, and fear were so strong I was afraid I would be swallowed up by them and never find my way out; so, for a long time, I tried to fight and evade them. Eventually, however, I became too exhausted to fight anymore. Oddly enough, upon surrendering to the reality and pain of the situation, I found that my suffering became less intense, and I had more energy and clarity to deal with what was.

The problem isn’t in wanting things to be a certain way – that’s natural and probably unavoidable. Rather the problem arises from letting the reality in our heads overshadow the reality in front of us. Unfortunately, wanting things to be a certain way doesn’t make them so. The grocery store incident reminded me that behavior of two children in a grocery store is just one of many things I can’t control in life.

So make your plans, have your hopes and expectations, but hold them lightly. Be willing to release them when they are no longer serving you, and surrender to the unexpected opportunities that arise – for learning, growth, and yes, even joy.

How has practicing being present helped you in your life? I’d love to hear your stories!

To read more articles or access free tools, visit my website.

About Me: I help individuals mindfully navigate personal and professional conflicts and enhance their quality of life. I’m a certified coach, a trained mediator, and have an M.A. in Peace Education. I offer Conflict Coaching and Mindful Life and Leadership Coaching (in-person or via phone/Skype), as well as conflict resolution workshops and trainings. Contact me to learn more.

So You’re Upset. Who’s “You”, Exactly?

All that a guru can tell you is: ‘My dear Sir, you are quite mistaken about yourself. You are not the person you take yourself to be.” - Nisargadatta Maharaj

Although we may not always be conscious of it, most of us spend considerable energy cultivating our own personal brand of “self.” We strive to see ourselves, and be seen by others, in a certain way. Our sense of identity typically comes from a combination of many different things. I might, for example, think of myself as a coach, meditator, introvert, wife, a good listener, etc.

The way others act towards us can help confirm and strengthen our sense of identity, or challenge it. If part of your identity is being “a hard worker” and your boss promotes you, you may feel your sense of self has been validated, and you’ll likely experience positive feelings. however, you’re boss gives you a poor performance review, you sense of self may feel threatened. As a result you may develop hostility toward the other person and experience conflict with them. The majority of conflicts that occur within workplaces and personal relationships are rooted in identity threats, and they can be extremely painful and destructive.

How much we like, value, and get along with others is often determined by how much they validate our sense of self. We consider a relationship to be “good,” “positive,”, or “healthy” when it gives us what we seek, and we then consider the other person to be “nice,” “friendly,” “generous,” “caring,” etc.

Because of this, we often approach relationships with a great deal of neediness. Like hungry beggars, we seek constant affirmation, acknowledgement, love, respect, and support for who we are.

When we don’t get the support we want, we see ourselves as hurt or diminished in some way. We may internalize these feelings and suffer from low self-esteem. Or we may turn against the other person, believing they are to blame for not giving us what we needed – no, deserved – in order to feel more secure, more whole.

Rarely do we stop to wonder: how much responsibility do we have for the stability of our own identity? How real can our sense of self actually be, when it seems so vulnerable?

There is an apple tree outside my window. I’m aware that the tree doesn’t care what I think of it. Nor do my opinions change what it is in any way. I could fling insults at it. I could call it a bug, a flower, a cloud, or a cat. It doesn’t change the reality that the tree is still a tree.

Why isn’t it the same for us?

From the time we are born, other people judge us, both positively and negatively. Based on what we say or do, we may be told we’re good, smart, pretty, athletic, funny, intelligent, messy, irresponsible, mean, or lazy. As we grow older, we make judgments about ourselves based on how others view and treat us, as well as the things we acquire – roles, titles, possessions, awards, etc.

We quickly become quite attached to these things, often so much so that we start to mistake them for the core of who we are. For example, if other people think I act compassionately, I believe I am a nice person. If I get a raise at my job, I believe I am a competent person. If I have a big house, then I am a successful person.

The problem with this is that all these things are impermanent – people’s perceptions of us, our roles, titles, jobs, and possessions are always changing. As a result of identifying with such unstable things our sense of who we are never feels completely safe or stable. One minute our heart may be soaring from receiving high praise, and the next minute a harsh criticism makes us feel worthless.

This leads to great deal of hunger and aversion in our relationships. Because our sense of self is so shaky, and therefore dependent on how others perceive us, we put immense energy into receiving positive judgments from others, and avoiding negative ones. Yet the needs we are trying to meet are often based on a false sense of self.

Consciousness as Identity
I invite you to take a few minutes and simply observe you mind. Imagine that you are sitting in an audience watching your thoughts and feelings as if they were actors on a stage. Whatever drama happens, you simply notice it without judgment.

In doing this, you may notice something interesting: While your mind may have thoughts and feelings, you are not these thoughts and feelings. You couldn’t be, or else you could not step back and observe them. You are not your thoughts and feelings. You are the consciousness that observes them.

Like the tree, our consciousness simply is. Its existence is not determined by what happens to us, or other people’s thoughts and reactions towards us. Regardless of our changing thoughts and life circumstances, it remains the same.

When we realize that our identity is not determined by thoughts and judgments, we become less needy and reactive in our relationships. Our self-worth doesn’t hinge on what another person says or does to us. And because our actions are no longer based on getting positive judgments, or avoiding negative ones, we become more capable of acting in a way that is aligned with our True Self. Being less self-focused, we naturally can be more generous and compassionate towards others.

Connecting with our stable True Self makes us more able to handle criticism, rejection, or negative perceptions. While these might cause us painful feelings, by simply watching our feelings and thoughts and not identifying with them, we can acknowledge these feelings and let them go, rather than cling to them and become reactive.

Next time another person does something that seems to threaten you identity, engage in the following process to access your True Self.

Name the threat. Identify the core of what you feel is being endangered by the situation. What part of your identity seems at risk?

Acknowledge the pain of this threat. What emotions do you feel? Anger? Sadness? Loneliness? Whatever you feel is valid – the pain is real.

Assess the reality of the threat.
Ask yourself: Does this situation truly determine my self-worth? Does it define or shape who I really am? Why or why not?

Personally, I sometimes struggle to answer these questions. To help me, I like to carry carry with me a quote from A Course in Miracles. “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.”

Special Offer:
If you need help managing a specific conflict, or simply want to increase your ability to manage future conflicts effectively, I’m offering a special discount. Simply mention this article and recieve 20% off your first conflict coaching session this July. contact me to book your session or set up a free consultation.

-Brooke Wichmann, MA, CPCC
Conflict and Leadership Coach

The Gift of Relationship Conflict


If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” – Ram Dass

Close relationships can be among the best mirrors in which to see ourselves – sometimes unexpectedly. And when we experience conflict in close relationships, it can be extremely challenging and painful.

However, if you approach relationship conflict consciously, with a willingness to do inner work, you can find tremendous opportunity for learning and growth.

Your state of mind influences your interpretation and response to your experiences. On same level, we all know this – everyone knows they’ll act differently if they’re in an unusually good or bad mood. Yet, during relationship conflict, it’s easy to ignore the correlation between inner state and our reactions. When we’re upset about something another person has done, it’s common to see their behavior as the sole cause of our distress; if only they would be different in some way, then we would have peace.

With this perspective, all our efforts to manage conflict are externally oriented. We try to avoid the other person. We try to change their behavior. Perhaps we work on developing new communication strategies or conflict behaviors. But the intent remains the same – making the external situation different in some way.

We rarely look inward to see how we might be contributing to our suffering.

According to Buddhist philosophy, others’ behavior may indeed cause us pain, but we experience far greater suffering from our own minds: how we perceive, interpret, internalize, and react to others’ behavior.
I experienced the truth of this for myself recently, when my husband and I decided to do yard work this weekend. We spent several hours working harmoniously before things fell apart. The disagreement was a simple thing: I thought we needed a shovel, he wanted a rake. It seemed like a neutral-enough topic, but the conversation was strangely tense and I felt upset by his tone and reactions. After we were done talking, my chest was tight and my mind was churning with all sorts of unpleasant thoughts and feelings. For five minutes we worked in stony silence.

Finally he spoke, noting how miserable I looked. He seemed genuinely confused about why I was so upset, and asked for clarity about exactly what he had said that had bothered me.

I carefully tried to recount as many of the facts back as I could. As I did so, I waited to come across the irrefutable “proof” that he had acted like a jerk – proof that I was justified for feeling every unpleasant emotion I was currently feeling. Yet, surprisingly, I couldn’t find anything tangible. But that didn’t make any sense. I was really upset; I must have a good reason!

Right?

Upon closer examination, I found the thing I was most upset about was a sound he had made during our conversation – a sudden exhalation of breath.

I heard this and interpreted it as an exasperated sigh – a sign that he was frustrated.

If he’s frustrated, it’s only logical that he was frustrated with me – I thought.

I further interpreted this frustration as sign that he wasn’t respecting me.

I interpreted this lack of respect as a threat to my self-worth, and felt belittled and insulted.

Then I felt angry at him for causing me such pain.

All that from a puff of air!

Upon reflection, I saw that I could have interpreted my husband’s behavior in numerous ways. Maybe he was just tired from the strenuous work he was doing. Maybe he was frustrated about something unrelated to me. I realized then that I wasn’t really upset by my husband’s behavior, but how I had viewed myself in response to his behavior. And even if his frustration was directed at me, I could have seen it as a sign that he was in a bad mood, or not feeling well. I didn’t have to take it personally or let it negatively affect my sense of self-worth. More importantly, I didn’t want to.

The way we perceive another’s actions largely depends on how we perceive ourselves.
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When we identify with our Ego, we lack a steady sense of who we are. Our sense of worth and identity is largely dependent on how others view us. We’re constantly seeking out love, acceptance, and acknowledgement from others in order to maintain a positive sense of self. When we don’t receive these things, our sense of self feels weakened, even under attack. A criticism, negative judgment, or sign of disapproval (real or imagined) can quickly turn us into an emotional wreck.

Yet, when we identify with our True Self, we know that who we really are is never determined by external events or others’ reactions to us. Our inner state remains stable. Since our sense of self is not bound to how others see or treat us, we are able to respond to conflict with less reactivity, and with more clarity and compassion. Like a sturdy oak, we can stay calm despite the storms that blow around us.

I saw that my attachment to my Ego-based thoughts was the major cause of my pain, not my husband’s behavior. Once I identified the primary source of my discomfort, I was able to respond to it more constructively. I was able to observe my thoughts with increased detachment, instead of getting “sucked in” by them. I could more clearly assess how true or accurate these thoughts were, and I could choose to let of go of those that were no longer serving me, and give my energy those that did.

From there, I could better communicate with my husband about the situation. I was able to let him know how his behaviors triggered negative reactions in me, without blaming or shaming him. In return, he was able to explain and apologize. With a little self-awareness, a potentially minor conversation that had turned so sour was reformed as a chance to increase our sense of connection.

Conflicts are not only opportunities to increase connection and understanding with another, but also opportunities for inner healing. When we are aware of our own internal causes of suffering, another person’s challenging behavior can gift us with increased self-awareness and an invitation to do inner work to overcome our limiting and painful beliefs about ourselves, and become better connected to who we really are.

You Don’t Have to “Uncouple” to be More Conscious

Gwyneth Paltrow is getting a divorce, and at first I couldn’t be happier. Actually, wait, no – that sounds terrible. Let’s start over.

According to her website, she and Chris Martin are going through a “Conscious Uncoupling,” which focuses on taking responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions as they end their marriage. It requires letting go of blame. It asks them to see that “every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needed healing.”

While the dissolution of a union is a sad affair, I was really excited that these “Conscious” ideas were getting mass promotion with Hollywood star power. I know some people view the concept of “Conscious Uncoupling” as pretentious and new-agey. However, as a culture we tend to blame, attack, and avoid those we have challenges with; I was glad to see two influential individuals attempting to use one of most challenging times in a relationship to cultivate compassion, understanding, and personal growth.

Yet, after some reflection, I found it somewhat bizarre that the concept of “being conscious” was being used solely in regards to the ending of a relationship. It’s great that couples are being urged to be more conscious during divorce or separation, but why start only after things are irreparable?

Conflicts and challenges are an extremely common part of any relationship – healthy or unhealthy, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a family member, a friend, or co-worker.

I’d like to think we can take steps to address all conflicts consciously, no matter the relationship or the stage that it is at.

While I don’t think that every relationship can (or should) last forever, I do believe that being more conscious of how we engage with one another, especially during conflicts, can do a lot to create more sustainable and enjoyable connections.

Here are some insights that may help you to have more more conscious conflict – in any relationship:

You Can’t Control the Other Person
Stop wasting your time.

I know, I know. This one’s hard, and you’ve probably heard it before. But as long as your goal is tied up in controlling the other person in some way, you’re going to have a bad time.

The fact is that everyone has their own set of values, perspectives, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. They won’t always see eye-to-eye with you, or act how you think they should – which can be immensely frustrating. However, if you can accept their autonomy, you’ll instantly (and paradoxically) feel more peaceful. Why? Because you’ll stop wasting your energy on lost causes and be freed up to focus on what you can control – yourself.

Your Inner State Influences Your Perceptions and Reactions
You are not a puppet.

This one also seems annoying to accept, at first. When we feel upset about something someone said or did, we want to blame them – not take responsibility for our feelings. But hear me out: ever notice how when you’re in a really good mood, you’re a lot less likely to get riled up by minor annoyances than when you’re tired or stressed? One day a driver cuts you off in traffic and you just roll your eyes and let it go. Another day you might seethe with rage for the rest of the trip. The outside stimulus isn’t different, you are. Typically, others’ actions don’t upset us as much as how we interpret those actions. On a good day, you might perceive the other driver as stressed or late for work, and choose to have compassion for them. Another day you might see the driver as rude and reckless, and feel personally disrespected by them. The point is, other people and events influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but they don’t cause them.

There’s good news in all this: you have free will. You’re not some puppet on a string that someone else can pull around. If you notice that you don’t like how you are thinking, feeling, or reacting, you have a lot of power to change it. No matter what the situation is, your inner state has as at least as much ability to guide the outcome as the external events do.

Being Mindful Decreases Destructive Responses
The less reactive you are, the more power you have.

It’s common to experience a lot of unpleasant thoughts and feelings during a conflict. These thoughts and feelings may get so overwhelming and uncomfortable that we become reactive and lash out in ways that are not helpful.

While you can’t always choose your thoughts (don’t think about a purple cow! See?) or feelings, you can control how you respond to them. This requires mindfulness, which is simply the practice of observing what is happening without attachment or judgment. When we let ourselves observe our own thoughts and feelings in this way, we start to gain some distance from them. We recognize that while we have these thoughts and feelings, they’re not who we are. As Pema Chodron says, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” From this place of awareness, we become less reactive. We gain the ability to consciously choose to release thoughts and feelings that don’t serve us, cultivate ones that do, and take more skillful and intentional action.

Another Person’s Behavior Should Not Determine Your Own.
Align your actions with your core self.

All too often in conflict, we fall into what is known as a “retaliatory spiral.” We attempt to give them a taste of their own medicine, teach them a lesson, show them that two can play this game, etc. In our minds it all seems justifiable – they hurt us, so now it’s our turn to hurt them back. But if we look deeper, it’s kind of insane. We’re basically modeling our own behavior after behavior that we disapprove of. Essentially, we’re strengthening what we don’t want, instead of creating what we do.

Conscious Conflict isn’t about getting your way or gaining power over another. It’s about mindfully engaging in a way that is aligned with your core values, desires, and purpose, regardless of how the other person behaves. When someone does something that upsets you, don’t base your actions on what they do. Step back, remind yourself of who you really are and what you really want, and then engage in a way that you can be proud of, no matter what the outcome.

And sometimes the outcome will still be painful. Being conscious doesn’t mean you always get what you want, that every relationship will be healthy forever, or that life becomes endlessly simple; but it does mean that you can act with skill, wisdom, compassion, and integrity.

There’s no reason to wait until disaster strikes to start.

Let’s Connect!
I’d love to hear from you! Which insight stood out as helpful to you?

For more articles, or to learn how you can work with me, visit my website.


Brooke Wichmann M.A., Certified Co-Active Coach

How to NOT Turn Your Partner Into Your Enemy

“The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree but still hold hands.” - Alexandra Penney

You like them a lot; maybe even love them.  You’re feeling great, and the relationship is coasting along smoothly, until suddenly you hit a bump.  There, staring you in the face, is a problem:

You’d like to have sex every day.  Your partner prefers once or twice a week. 

Your partner leaves dishes in the sink for three days.  You like things clean and organized.  

You want to take a luxurious vacation.  They seem to want to save every penny. 

Your partner eats lots of fast food.  You think its important to stay active and eat healthy.

At first, it’s not a big deal.  You bring it up casually in conversation.  The discussion seems to go well enough.  But nothing changes.  So you try again.  This time things get more heated, and you both wind up feeling hurt.  Eventually you cool off and make up.  But still, nothing changes.  You’re growing more and more frustrated.  You try to discuss the problem again, but these conversations seem to go nowhere.  Anger and resentment starts to build.  You notice yourself thinking or saying things like:

“She’s acting crazy”

“Everything would be fine if he would just…”

“She’s too sensitive.”

“He’s being unreasonable!”

Soon your partner seems less like a partner, and more like a rival, an enemy.

It’s a terrible place to be, and yet it’s so easy to get to.  We live in an individualistic and competitive culture, where we’re taught to focus on getting ahead, winning, and being right.

This trickles into our intimate relationships, and commonly shows up during conflicts through behaviors like:

-Trying to prove why we’re right and they’re wrong. Picture
-Criticizing and blaming.

-Defending ourselves.

-Justifying our own behavior.

-Attempting to convince our partners to do what we want.

While a competitive attitude might help you in certain areas of your life, it is absolutely destructive to intimate relationships.  Even if you “win” an argument, you ultimately lose because the dynamic that’s been created is now “me against you.”  This doesn’t make for a very safe or satisfying partnership.

If we want to create more fulfilling relationships, we need a better way to approach relationship conflicts.  We need to learn to act like teammates, rather than competitors.

Here are some simple ways to start:

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Let go of “right” and “wrong” thinking:
When our partner’s actions, attitudes, or desires clash with own, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wondering who’s right and who’s wrong – after all, we can’t both be right,can we?  We may doubt ourselves (“Am I being unreasonable?”), or criticize our partner (“He’s too demanding!”).It’s important to realize that each relationship is unique; there’s no one right way to be a couple.  You both must work together to establish your own relationship norms.  This will be challenging because you’re different people, with different life experiences,  attitudes, values, etc.  Some differences of perspective are bound to occur!  But, by working to understand and accept and these differences, you can build trust, respect, and cooperation.
Attack the Problem, not the Person.
It’s common to blame our partner when a conflict arises.  To us, it may seem like their behavior is the sole cause of our problems.  But in reality, a conflict always takes at least two participants.  And\ trying to make them out to be the bad guy will make them resistant and defensive.

Instead, create a unified front to addressing conflicts by framing them as “our problem” rather than “your problem.”  For example, instead of saying: “We’re always fighting because youre such a slob!  You need to help out more,” you might state: ”We have different ideas of what a house should look like.  We need to figure out how we can create a space we both feel comfortable in.”

Seek Common Ground
A strong partnership honors the feelings, values, beliefs, and dreams of both individuals.  This isn’t an easy task or one that will ever be finished.  It requires constant effort to find balance between both your needs.

So what do you do when your partner makes a request that seems unappealing or unreasonable?  Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher, believes that each request, no matter how unreasonable it may seem, contains some reasonable element.  While you shouldn’t have to agree to every request your partner makes, he recommends searching for something that seems reasonable that you are willing to do.  For example, if your partner says “I never see you anymore.  I don’t want you hanging out with your friends on the weekend!”  You might not agree to stop seeing your friends, but you could be willing to find ways to spend more time together.

Let’s Connect! 

I’d love to hear from you!  Which tip to do you want apply to your relationship?  What helps you and your partner fight fair?

For more articles and free tools visit my website.

Brooke Wichmann M.A., Certified Co-Active Coach

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

PictureWhen I was young, I had an obsession with figure skating. I begged my parents to buy me skates and sequined costumes and drive me to the local ice rink, where I would spend hours learning complex jumps and spins. I soon learned that the sport is not only full of beauty, and grace, but also pain. I became very familiar with the sensation of my body crashing, full force, into the cold ice, and obtained enough bruises to probably have warranted concern from child services. My fellow skaters (some of whom where current and future-Olympians) suffered similar damage because, no matter how talented you are, if you’re trying to spin in the air and land on a single blade less than 1/4th of an inch wide, you’d better be okay with falling on your butt. A lot.

This experience should have taught me a valuable life lesson about failure: success is reached not merely through skill and hard work, but also by having the persistence to get up after falling repeatedly and try, try again. But I must be hard-headed or something, because that didn’t really sink it.Like many people, I grew up frightened of messing up. Failure seemed more painful than valuable, and I’d rather avoid pain, thankyouverymuch. I thought of this avoidance as a healthy defense mechanism. And sticking with what I was naturally good at, and avoiding the things I wasn’t, was not just a less risky move, but a smart one.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to question my attitude. I had a tumultuous year – a brutal year, even – and I spent nearly every day of it feeling afraid. New challenges were being thrust at me, and I had the potential to fail any one of them. I had to make decisions without enough information, and each one might blow up in my face. I was out of my comfort zone, and I was going to fall on my butt at any moment. In a moment of clarity, I realized I wanted to live my life going after what I really wanted, not merely avoiding what I didn’t. And that meant facing my fear of failure head on.


MINDSETS, POTENTIAL, AND FAILURECarol Dweck, auPicturethor and psychologist, says that people approach life in one of two basic ways: with a Fixed Mindset or with a Growth Mindset. With a Fixed Mindset, people believe they are born with certain amount of innate intelligence and talent, which is “fixed” and relatively unchangeable. They believe the level of one’s natural talent and intelligence will determine how successful they are at a given task or area of life; if one experiences failure, it is a sign that they lack the necessary ability. Therefore, people with a Fixed Mindset are likely to interpret early failure as a clear indication that it is time to move on.

People with Growth Mindsets, however, believe natural intelligence and talents are just starting points, the mere beginning of what they are capable of. They believe that with consistent effort and dedication, they can further develop and strengthen their abilities, and achieve much greater levels of success. As such, they readily seek out new opportunities for growth and learning. An experience of failure is source of valuable information for future endeavors, rather than a sign to give up.Over the course of their lives, people with Fixed Mindsets may experience success early in certain areas of their life, but often fail to achieve their full potential. Those with Growth Mindsets tend to continuouslly build upon their successes, achieving higher levels of greatness, also, unsurprisingly, having a lot of fun in the process.

The mindset we have is largely determined by our most fundamental sense of self.


As humans, we have two versions of our consciousness. I call them The Ego and The Highest Self.The Ego divides all information into two piles: “ME” and “THE REST OF THE WORLD.” The world is very distinct from you, and is full of danger. The Ego focuses most of its energy on keeping you safe and defending you Picturefrom potential threats, including failure.

Although there’s nothing wrong with seeking safety, if you identify primarily with The Ego, you will have a Fixed Mindset. The world will appear more hostile, and it will be easy to believe that showing weakness or vulnerability could lead to being attacked. Believing that you’re fragile, you’ll avoid doing anything where you might get hurt.Most of my life, I unconsciously identified with The Ego, so it was only natural that I came to avoid trying things I wasn’t perfect at, lest I faced rejection or criticism. I confused “who I was” with “what I did.” If I failed, I believed that I, personally, was a failure. If I made a bad decision, I was a bad person – my abilities weren’t good enough for me to be anything better. In the face of such harsh self-judgments, I was always frantically searching for what was safe and easy.

The Highest Self sees itself as strong, creative, resourceful, and deeply connected to the life around it. The world around it is not a threat, but a helpful learning environment. If focuses its energy on helping you evolve into your best self. When you identify with The Highest Self, you’ll naturally obtain a Growth Mindset.

When you choose to see yourself as resilient and capable of bouncing back after a fall, you won’t fear making a leap of faith. You won’t worry if you don’t immediately know the answers, because you’ll know you’re creative enough to eventually figure them out. And you’ll realize that that all experiences, even painful ones, provide valuable information for further development. So you won’t confuse failure with not being good enough, but rather use the experience to help you become even better.

And the truth is that we are resilient. If you fail, no one on earth can make you internalize that failure. No set of experiences can make you not good enough. It’s all your choice: you can seek greater safety, or you can declare yourself to be unstoppable and just keep getting better, and better, and better. And no one can tell you otherwise.


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Tips for Gaining a Growth MindsetThe good news is that we are all capable of obtaining a Growth Mindset. The bad news is that, even though it’s a simple internal choice, it can be difficult one to actually make. It takes a lot of inner work for me to not identify with The Ego and use every setback as an excuse to me want to scurry into safety. But as time passes, it does seem to be getting easier.
Here are some strategies that are helping me on my journey, that may work for you:1. Stop Labeling Experiences “Bad”Often, experiences don’t go as well as we wanted; it’s easy to label these as “bad experiences” or failures. Yet rarely is an experience completely devoid of anything positive. If we ignore these positives and focus only on the negatives, we’ll be much less likely to engage in similar experiences in the future.

For example, imagine you forgot some of the words while giving a speech. When remembering it later, that mistake is all you focus on. You will probably be reluctant to ever speak to a group again; it’s a difficult and mortifying experience.

But if you focused on the parts you did well, the applause of the audience, and the feeling of sharing a message, you would be a lot more likely to feel good about yourself and want to try again. Forgetting a few words can help focus your preparation next time, and you’ll likely do even better.

So, the next time you have an experience where you feel like you failed or disappointed yourself, identify at least three things that did go well.

2. Focus on the Learning

My job involves giving a lot of workshops and trainings. My fear of criticism used to be so out-of-control that I would actually avoid reading participant evaluation! Now, I try to view these experience as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than to prove myself. Instead of being perfect (which I knew was impossible), I set a goal become the best trainer I could be. This made me feel that it was okay to try new things and make mistakes, because I could use this knowledge to improve my skills and technique.

Try this for yourself! Before you attempt something, identify at least one important thing you want to learn from the experience that will help you even better in the future.

3. Watch for Fixed Mindset Thoughts

The best way to gain freedom from The Ego’s Fixed Mindset is to recognize when The Ego is present by naming it. When you realize you’re having Fixed Mindset thoughts, simple acknowledge that these thoughts are coming from The Ego, not The Highest Self. You might say, for example, “The Ego thinks that if I can’t do this, I’m worthless.” The Ego is telling me that I’ll never be smart (…talented, brave, etc.) enough to do this.” By simply naming and observing The Ego, you’ll become less controlled by it, and increasingly identified with your Highest Self.

I’d love to hear from you!  
Do you tend to have a fixed or a growth mindset?  How does it affect your life?  Use the comment section to share your experience!
Want more?
Check our my website for more articles and free tools to improve your life.
Best regards,
          Brooke Wichmann, MA,
          Certified Professional Co-Active Coach

What Jaws Taught Me About Life (Hint: it’s not what you think!)

“Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood.  Now is the time to fear less, that we may understand more.”  - Marie Curie
Jaws is generally recognized as one of the
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best horror movies of all time, and almost every member of the original cast and crew thought the film was doomedwhile they were making it.  You see, the me
chanical shark that played Jaws kept seriously malfunctioning during filming.  Steven Spielberg wanted to feature lots of graphic shots of the shark in a
ction, but mechanical problems prevented this from happening.  Spielberg was forced to adapt.  Instead of actually showing Jaws, the most he could do was to “hint” at the shark’s presence.  He did this through lots of ominous music, dark blood-stained waters, and images of victims being dragged underwater by an unseen force.This desperate improvisation turned out to be the secret of the movie’s success.Why?  Because it turns out that we tend to be more scared of the unknown than of what we can see in the light of day.  Most of the time, the horrors that we imagine are more frightening than the reality – in this case, a broken-down mechanical shark.

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How This Relates to Your Happiness and Well-BeingWe each have our own personal horror stories that we replay over and over in our minds.  Not about sharks, or chainsaw-wielding psychopaths, but of what might happen. Specifically, the fear of what might go wrong if we made that change we’ve been longing for.  If we left our unsatisfying job, relationship, town, etc. and attempted to start something new.When working with clients who want to make big changes in their life, I’ve found that the number one thing that holds them back is fear of the unknown.  This fear is often so overwhelming that they’ve become paralyzed and stay in unsatisfying situations, rather than going after what they really want.

Yet, when I ask them to describe what, exactly, it is that they are afraid of, they often have difficulty doing so.

Like Jaws, the actual fears reside just under the surface of their consciousness.  They know there’s something scary lurking out of view, but they’re not able to see what that something is.

I’ve found that when people critically examine their fears, they become less afraid.  Sometimes, they realize that their fears are, in reality, silly or unrealistic.  Other times their fears may be legitimate, but surmountable with strategies and careful planning; or they can simply acknowledge that potential rewards are greater than the possible risks they are afraid of.

PictureShining a Light on Our FearsWhen we start to feel afraid, we activate the part of our brain called the amygdala, which is designed to protect us from danger.  It triggers the body’s fight, flight, or freeze response.This can be very helpful if we’re, say, facing a saber-tooth tiger.  It is far less helpful when dealing with a major life transition.  Unfortunately, the amygdala can’t tell the difference between the two.  It just recognizes the common element of fear, and responds the same way to both.  What makes things worse is that, when the amygdala is activated, the functioning of our pre-frontal cortex, the critical thinking and complex problem-solving part of our brain, is significantly reduced.

Thus we may start running from or trying to fight off fears, before we really understand them.  It’s similar to jumping away in fright from a snake, only to realize later that it was only a garden hose; we lose the ability to critically examine and respond intelligently to our fears.  As a result, we feel more afraid.  And this fear may prevent us from doing things that bring us joy, even when we wouldn’t actually be endangered.  Many people, for example, still feel afraid to go into the ocean after having seen Jaws years ago, despite the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning TWICE than eaten by a shark!

To break this cycle, we need to recognize when our amygdala is triggered and consciously work to calm it down and reactivate our pre-frontal cortex thinking.  Then we’ll have the ability to put our finger on exactly what we are afraid of, and figure out a plan to effectively deal with these fears.

Here’s some steps to do this:
1. Acknowledge Anxiety  – When you’re thinking about a change you want to make, and suddenly you start to feel really anxious, simply stop and recognize the fear.  You might even want to say something to yourself along lines of “I’m feeling really worried this won’t work out.”  Simply observing our thoughts and feelings helps us gain a sense of detachment from them.  We start to recognize that we have these feelings, but they don’t define who we are.
2. Calm down - You’re not going to be able to logically work through these feelings when your amygdala is activated.  So if you’re feeling afraid, do something that will help you calm down, such as going for a walk, meditating, or listening to soothing music.
3. Write Down What You Are Afraid Of - I’ve found that writing down my fears makes them seem more tangible and easier to deal with.  So, when you’re calm, get out a piece of paper and write down everything that you are worried might happen.
4. Explore Each Fear - For each fear you’ve written down, identify the worst possible thing that could happen if this fear came true.  Do this by asking yourself a series of “and then what” questions.  For example, say one of the fears you’ve written down is that you’ll fail.  Picture what that failure would look like, then ask yourself “and then what?” Maybe your answer is that you would have to find another job.  Once you have your answer, ask yourself: “and then what?”  Keep doing this until you’ve figured out what the worst possible scenario would be and how you would, most likely, respond to it.
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5. Create a Plan - Once you’ve identified what you are really afraid of, figure out the best way to respond to the fear.  If the fear is unrealistic or not very substantial, maybe you ignore it.  If the fear is based in real threats, maybe you figure out a plan that will help you minimize risks.  If the fear is too big for you to handle at this time, maybe you decide to put the changes you want on hold right now.  Whatever you decide, you’ll be in control, not your fear.

Want more resources?
Visit my website for free tools to create your best life.
Thanks for connecting!
             -Brooke

Brooke Wichmann
M.A.,Certified Coach

How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom

“I don’t even know what I want.”
“I’m not sure who I am anymore.” 
“I’m not sure what to do.”Don’t believe this!  You do know.  Or, at least, partof you does.See, underneath all the confusion and chaos that you currently believe is “you,”  there lies a deep inner wisdom.  It knows your purpose.  It knows you are here for a reason.  It knows what you’re capable of doing, and it has the creativity, strength, and resourcefulness to help you achieve it.Yet, if we’re not intentional about listening to it, it gets drowned out by our own chaotic thinking, the demands of everyday life, and the voices of others.

The good news: your inner wisdom is still there, ready help guide you to a more fulfilling life.   You just need to learn how to listen.  Here are five ways to start:


Remember a Time You Felt Fully Alive 
It’s easier to find something when you know what you’re looking for.  The times in

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your life when you have felt most alive are those where you were strongly aligned with you inner wisdom. Remembering those times can help you reconnect.

Try this: Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted, and close your eyes.  Think back to a time when you felt a powerful sense of joy, excitement, and purpose.  Wha

t were you doing?  What were you thinking and feeling?  What made this experience so meaningful?


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Replace Self-Judgement with Curiosity
We can be quick to censor our thoughts, feelings, and desires that make us uncomfortable. Yet they often hold valuable information about our core needs and values.While we probably shouldn’t act on every emotion, craving, or impulse we have, we can gain access to our inner wisdom by exploring them.   Next time something pops into your head that that seems selfish, unrealistic, mean, or just plain wrong, get curious!  Ask questions like  ”what’s important about this?”, “What am I longing for right now?”, “What need am I trying to meet?”, or “What am I afraid of?”  The not-so-obvious answers might surprise you.

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Do Something Different
Our inner wisdom doesn’t usually communicate with words.  Rather, it often speaks to us through strong desires, gut feelings, or inexplicable emotional “tugs.”  Too often, we dismiss this kind of communication simply because it doesn’t make sense to our logical/analytical thinking.  Yet, if we’re gong to connect to our inner wisdom, we need to learn to trust these wordless messages.Start now: think of something that unexplainably interests you and pursue it.   As the Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray.”

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Meditate
Once, a university professor went to learn from a great
Zen master.  The master places a teacup in front of the professor and begins to pour him tea.  Soon the cup overflows and tea starts spilling out onto the table until professor finally yells for him to stop.  The master compares the professor’s mind to the teacup – so full it doesn’t have room for anything new.We also need to create some open space in our minds for our inner wisdom to flow into.  Meditation is a great way to do this.  In its most basic form, you simply focus on observing your breath.  When thoughts arise, acknowledge them — and then gently return your focus to your breathing.  By not getting caught up in these habitual thoughts, we make room for new insights and awareness.

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Focus on “What,” not “How”
Sometimes our inner wisdom starts to give us a glimpse of what we want, but instead of taking the time to fully listen, we immediately start drowning it out with worries about the possible challenges that could prevent us from attaining it.We are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole; we can rise above most challenges we face.  But first we need a clear and compelling vision to inspire us.  This requires temporarily letting go of the question of “how?” and allowing ourselves to really explore what it is we really want.  Try it for yourself!  Get out three sheets of paper and write one of these questions at the top of each page.What do I want to do?
What do I want to have?
What impact do I want to have on others and world around me? Then write as many things as you can think of.  Let yourself dream big.  Afterwards, use what you’ve written to start visualizing what you want your life to look like 3 years from now.

Want more? 
Visit my website to download free tools to help you live your best life.
Looking forward to connecting!
Brooke Wichmann, MA
Certified Professional Co-Active Coach

How to Make a Leap of Faith

Take a moment to visualize the following scenario:

You’re on the edge of a cliff. Behind you is a dry desert, and below you is a 1,000 foot drop ending in jagged rocks. Three feet across from you, over the gap, is a beautiful landscape harboring your heart’s desires.

You know you want to jump, but the fear of falling weighs heavily on your mind. Finally, after much deliberation, you decide to make the leap. You take a running jump, hurl your body through the air, and after a breathtaking split second you feel your feet land firmly on the other side.  

Congratulations!  Now, answer this question: Where were you looking as you made this jump?

Behind you at the barren desert? Below you at the jagged rocks? Or across from you at the beautiful landscape?

When we try to go somewhere, focusing on where we want to go is more than just common sense, it’s practically instinctual. It’s the same reason why, when driving on a narrow road, we keep our eyes trained on the road in front of us, rather than sideways at the passing cars. It’s why, when we are walking or running, we set our sights primarily on the path ahead.

It’s not something we have to logically think about. Some deeper part of us intuitively knows: We move towards that which we focus on.

Yet we often don’t apply this important inner wisdom when trying to create movement in other areas of our lives.

We’ve all been there before: unsatisfied and wanting change, but frightened of the risks change may invite. Our choice is this: stay with what is unsatisfying but familiar, or move into the unknown for the chance of finding more fulfillment.

Choosing the latter always requires some kind of “leap of faith.” Since most of us don’t have a crystal ball or clairvoyant powers, we can’t predict all the challenges or successes we may face upon starting a new path. Our faith, in the midst of this uncertainty, is what allows us to move into the unknown.

Yet some of us never work up the courage to make the leap of faith. The primary reason? Looking down. By this, I mean focusing the majority of one’s attention on the perceived risks of making the leap – i.e. what could possibly go wrong.

Let’s go back to the visualization at the beginning of the article. Imagine, just for a moment, trying to make that jump while looking down at the jagged rocks, or behind you at the desert. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? It nearly is!

It’s just as impossible to take a leap of faith when we focus on what we will leave behind, or on what we fear might occur if we don’t succeed.

If you find yourself stuck and lacking courage, it’s time to shift your focus from what you don’t want, to what you do.

Look down if you must, but don’t let your gaze linger there or you’ll always be afraid and unwilling to move forward. Instead, start to think/dream/vision about what lies ahead!

Sometimes we look behind or below us because those are the easiest areas for us to see. The future is less clear. Therefore, it is important to create a clear picture of the future we desire. Increasing our ability to see where we are trying to go increases our motivation, courage, energy to get there.

Try the Future Self Visualization at the end of this article to help you get started. Repeat every couple of days. Soon, you may find that leaping doesn’t seem so scary after all, and the “other side” is a lot closer than you think.

Future Self Visualization

Set aside 10-20 minutes and go somewhere you can sit or lie down comfortably without interruptions. Close your eyes and imagine you are 5, 10, or even 20 years into the future. In the future you are seeing, you have already taken the leap that has been on your mind. And you have overcome the obstacles you faced to create the result you really wanted in your life.

See this future very clearly. Notice any details. To help you do this, ask yourself the following questions:

What do you look like/what are you wearing?

How does your body feel?

What do you notice in your surroundings? Any particular sights, sounds, smells?

Where are you?

What are you doing?

What does your day-to-day life look like?

What emotions do you have?

What are your significant attitudes and beliefs?

What did you have to do/learn to come to this point in your life?

When you have finished, try write down what you noticed in a notebook or journal.

If you found this helpful, visit my site to download free tools to help you live your life purpose! 

-Brooke Wichmann, MA, Certified Professional Co-Active Coach