Welcome to Pep Talks

You always have the best answer for yourself. While you’re mastering that important truth, here are some Pep Talks that might come in handy.

Navigating Conflict at Work (but I hate confrontation!)

Navigating conflict….if we didn’t learn it as young people….

It’s no surprise that many of us suck at resolving disagreements. If our parents didn’t fight fairly or fight at all, then we learned how to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Stepping out on a gender and geography limb, I offer that southern women are taught explicitly not to rock the boat. Instead, subterfuge and covert warfare is a well-refined skill set among this demographic. However, without sufficient tactical training at navigating conflict, there’s frequent opportunity for disagreements to open a divide between people who must work together, ideally, effectively.

Beyond how it makes us feel (sick, frustrated, angry), conflict at work is a huge drain on morale and productivity for a company.  Work conflict can lead to sick days (avoidance), a loss of satisfaction for the job (disengagement), consideration of leaving the job for another one (giving up), or bringing the conflict home (stewing).

We’ve all been there. A co-worker does something, says something, or won’t do something and it makes us batty. And rather than just own your version of the story with a “You may not be aware of this so I wanted to let you know, I am really upset with how that meeting went and how the issue of the project assignments was handled. Can you help me understand why those choices were made so I may better appreciate the situation and put it behind me?” I know, I know. When we are hurt or angry or just plain riled up our rationale brain (hello Pre-Frontal Cortex) is bullied into submission by our Mid-brain which says CONFLICT! CRISIS! BLAME! Did I mention BLAME? And please, some MORE BLAME just in case!

Brain Hijack and Conflict at Work

How often have you said “I am so mad I can’t see straight”? The reaction is brain hijack. Essentially, the overload of anger and similar emotions commandeer the brain’s resources via the Amygdala, a structure in our brain that is devoted to assigning value to an experience. It’s like Chicken Little yelling “the sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Thanks to biology, brain hijack occurs through a series of chemical events when one of our proverbial buttons is pushed. Until those chemicals have returned to their resting state, you will be in a state of brain hijack and thus, your rationale and thoughtful self is not available for consultation. You know how they say do not send an email that you’ve written in anger?  Warning! It’s good advice for a biological reason as well as a self-preservation one.


Stop, Drop, and Roll (not really)

Because successfully navigating conflict at work translates to navigating conflict anywhere in your life, here is a strategy that might serve you:

  1. Own your story. If you are hurt and really pissed off about what your coworker did, first BREATHE. Send some much needed oxygen to your brain. Then ask yourself what button in YOU was pushed. What core value(s) was threatened? What insecurity landmine went kaboom? Achieving this self- awareness is the vital first step to changing the experience the next time. It forces your brain back into rational mode, too.
  2. Seek clarification instead of confrontation. Make sure your version of what happened is what actually happened. Do not live in the distorted land of 100 assumptions. Ask other people who were there or are directly involved what their take on the situation is. If your version of the story is not confirmed by others, then quite likely, it’s neither true nor matches the story belonging to the person you’re blaming for the way you feel.
  3. To speak or not to speak. Decide whether speaking directly to the person on the other end of the conflict is a person of influence. Meaning, if the delivery guy pissed you off and you don’t plan to order from that restaurant again, then perhaps choosing to let it go is the best course. If he/she is someone on your team and you work with them every day, then it’s worth it to gird your loins and have a conversation. Yes, it’s a scary idea. Yes, it might not go well. However, like anything you choose to become good at – you have to PRACTICE. There is no other way but to go straight through.
  4. Practice. If you plan to seek a conversation, imagine or write down what you’d like to say. Imagine the ideal outcome. Appreciate what parts you can own and what parts you cannot. Include the facts – You feel WHAT? Because WHY? And HOW might we be able to improve things through WHAT course of action?
  5. Release expectations. Say your peace and have no expectation about their response. This is VITAL. We control what we say, when we say it, and how we offer it. We CANNOT dictate what they say, do or how they respond. If we are dependent upon a specific response – we set ourselves up for more discomfort. If you get a wholly unsatisfying response, so be it. Be proud of your effort to take thoughtful action.
  6. Leave the training wheels of BLAME at the door. They only serve to protect you in the moment. No one can push a button unless it was already installed and we elected to leave it on the wall of our insides. Seriously folks, in the realm of emotional experience people do not do things to us. We allow ourselves to be mad or hurt when we choose to take things personally. So what if we allow that whatever they say/do is about THEM and whatever we believe/feel is about US? It changes everything when we take responsibility for what we feel. Blame prevents that from happening. If we never stop blaming – then we don’t get to move on to the next step.

The Power of Conflict Resolution

When we successfully navigate the process of conflict resolution once, we can do it again and again. It can become a skill in the repertoire of effective communication. And while in the moment of NOW, when all we want to do is be mad, recognizing that we have choices is so powerful. Think about it. When we don’t believe we have choices – we feel powerless. With the tools to be able to convert a disagreement into an alliance – that’s where real power begins. Work may not feel so much like work after all.

Conflict and Self-Awareness: The Role of Core Values

Causes of conflict and what’s the new normal

Conflict comes in many forms. For the sake of our discussion, I divide the source into three categories:

  1. Competition for resources (like water or power)
  2. A core value challenge (like freedom)
  3. An insecurity trip wire

At any given moment, most people are experiencing some kind of conflict. In a developed nation, we are fortunate in that category # 1 above is a minimal threat to us. Unless of course, you are in corporate culture where power struggles may be overt, covert and just plain exhausting.

It is also possible that we have lived with conflict so long that we no longer recognize it as conflict and the potential damage to our wellbeing.

In case conflict wasn’t obvious…here’s your Conflict Quiz

  • In conversations (the ones in your own head), do you say things like “I am so mad at ….” “This is so unfair.” “I hate that….”
  • When speaking with other people, do you use words like “fault” or “blame”?
  • Check out your own body language. Do you notice a furrow between your eyebrows from scowling routinely? Do you often clench your jaw or your fists? Is your posture stiff and rigid?
  • Are you reactive and quick to show temper?
  • Do you drive aggressively as a way to feel better or relieve tension?
  • In conversations, do you have to be right?

If you answered YES, thank you for being honest!

If you answered NO to all of these then you are a Buddhist Monk who does not drive.


The Un-conflicted Monk

Core Values and Conflict

If you have identified some degree of conflict in your life from the exercise above, perhaps it can be traced to source #2 – a challenge to a core value.

Core values are the beliefs we live by. For me, I place supreme value on liberty, health/vitality, curiosity, human connection and empowering others.

Given that we have our own beliefs and values; some degree of conflict is normal. Your core values may be vastly different than your neighbor’s. Core values change as we age. What’s important to us at 21 is not even on our radar at 55. So to begin to ameliorate conflict, start with getting clear on your core values. And I really mean yours, not the ones the TV tells you to have. Not the ones an ex-husband told you to have. If you don’t know or are not sure, ask someone who really loves you to offer suggestions. If that doesn’t work, ask a Coach. We are great at creating clarity with our clients.

The Conflict Cycle

When we perceive a challenge to our core values, conflict is a natural result. When our core values such as family, freedom, or independence are challenged by circumstances and/or the people in our lives, we get upset.  We find fault and we blame. We experience emotions like anger, resentment, agitation, or irritability. Our choice of action might be arguing or shutting down. At the heart of conflict, we adopt an attitude of win/lose. I win and you lose.



You can imagine that when many people go around with a you or me attitude, there’s going to be plenty of conflict in the world. In fact, this is where so many of us spend our time. We heap compassion on our families and our friends but if someone else is doing something that we believe challenges our core values – then watch out! We are not going to get along. You may not know it but I blame you for this conflict.

Making Matters Worse

When we are in conflict, we see few choices. We might confront the perceived cause. We might complain. Or, we might internalize the conflict until something causes us to lash out. The proverbial dam breaks. When the attack is directed at an innocent bystander, like our kids, our dog, or a stranger – it’s called off-loading. When we project our anger outwardly, the problem is amplified and we usually feel worse. Some part of us knows we acted like a jerk and while it feels good in the moment of release, the anger is misdirected.

We’ve all said or posted something in a moment of anger and haste and then regretted it. When we argue with people and our mouths lead our minds, we say things that we wish we could take back. With posted material, it’s permanent. The record remains.

As a coach seeking to empower you with life skills, let’s explore alternatives.

What’s my button?

The way to change any experience starts with self-awareness. The next time you get upset, ask yourself, what personal code or core value is being challenged? What? Be rationale? No way. I’m in emotional hijack. I’m too mad to be rational. Try it anyway.

The more we know about ourselves the better prepared we are to make the most of who and how we are. It’s the difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is automatic – ‘ready, fire, aim!’  Responding is about a thoughtful choice.  If we fire, at least we have taken careful aim at the appropriate target.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

Recognizing what you hold dear is step 1, and recognizing that the source of your conflict (a person) may have other values, is step 2. The first gives you the awareness to change what you think, feel and do. The second creates the opportunity to change the shared experience. Be curious.  What value are they fighting (you) for?  How could the conflict be radically different if you realized that you had something significant in common with the bearer of your blame? You have to ask in order to know.

Imagine what you could create if you bypassed conflict and used that energy for something you actually wanted. Powerful stuff!





Stay tuned for next time on the Conflict Channel, “Dealing with Conflict at Work”

Embracing Imperfection: Changing Self-Perception

Imperfection is a subjective matter. Your ‘imperfect’ may be what your spouse loves most about you. It can be another word for the things that make us unique and special. Embracing imperfection is best encouraged when we are young so we grow up with some latitude to be different and be proud, rather than self-conscious and insecure. Most damaging of all – judging ourselves as imperfect can lead to the development of shame.

Perfection is self-abuse of the highest order. – Anne Wilson Schaef

I grew up in the DC Metro area. It was an expensive place even 30 years ago. My parents valued hard work and saving and making things from scratch. They were very financially responsible and as a result of that influence, gratefully, so am I. However, I remember so many of the kids I knew having things I didn’t have; and according to my parents, couldn’t have. So I starting working at age 13 to have money for the many things my parents didn’t see as necessary.  Even though we were somewhere in the middle class, I remember a feeling of going without. It left me feeling that I was somehow less than those around me.

Fast forward a decade and I began a career in the drug development industry. After a few years, I was making good money, yet I still felt the need to be thrifty and live well below my means. My behavior was certainly responsible but the belief system behind it was about lack. There was not enough to fill the hole inside. After a decade of working my salary was high enough that I finally felt like I had some. Not enough, but at least some.

Sometime in my early 30’s while looking at pictures of myself – I noticed my smile wasn’t very pretty. Specifically, when I smiled my front teeth seemed misshapen and too small for my mouth. There was a small gap in between my front teeth. The more I thought about my smile, the more self-conscious I became. Soon I convinced myself that my appearance was lacking as a result of my teeth.  I decided to ‘have work done’.

Cosmetic dentistry they call it. Whoever said being pretty was painful knew something about cosmetic dentistry. To prepare for the veneers, they grind off the bulk of each tooth. These teeth once whittled down look like tiny shark teeth. Then they put temporary caps over your tiny shark teeth. The minute you think they’ll behave while you attempt to talk or eat, they become projectiles. If I was embarrassed before, this was a whole new kind of self-consciousness. It used to take about 10 days to have the new veneers made.  Now they can be done while you wait! When my veneers came in they were the wrong color so I spent another 10 days living a Halloween life. You know that dream where your teeth fall out? In my case, it was not a dream.

After 3 weeks and the crowns permanently glued to the tiny shark teeth, I did have a gorgeous smile. However, because of the experience to get to that moment, it was hard to enjoy. When we drag around a perception of ‘not enough’ and then believe an external change is the answer, the feeling usually remains with us, like garlic after Italian food.

As a result of hard work and responsibility, I finally had ‘enough’, except it still wasn’t. So I bought a perfect smile thinking it would change how I felt about myself. It didn’t. Why? Because striving for perfection is more about overcoming a disparaging internal dialogue, until we address the belief system that supports a sense lack, we are hostage to feelings of ‘not enough’.

There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections. – unknown

How we experience our lives is a direct product of our belief systems. When those belief systems are flawed, we find flaws within us. Chasing perfection can result. Or, we can renegotiate our contracts with ourselves.  We can change what we believe about our worth, starting with our so-called imperfections. Recently I went through a drawer full of old pictures. I saw that smile I once had and it occurred to me that it was beautiful; that I was beautiful. Perfectly imperfect, small gap and all.

I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent. – Ashley Brilliant