If conflict resolution approaches for “dealing with difficult people” worked, we wouldn’t be here, almost 25 years after the book of a similar name, still trying to find the right path through workplace conflict.
They don’t work because there’s a missing ingredient: You. Your own “conflict stuff.”
What irritates you isn’t necessarily what irritates me. And what presses my buttons might be something that doesn’t cause you a passing thought. That’s because your conflict triggers may be different than mine: We don’t all have the same triggers.
Conflict triggers are your personal hot buttons. They come from within you, not really from someone else pressing them, though that’s how we generally talk about them (He just presses my buttons). They’re based in your identity, or how you see yourself (and want others to see you) in the world. The idea is that when you perceive a threat of some sort to an important part of your identity, you’re triggered.
It may be a real threat. Yet in my experience as a mediator and conflict management coach, as often as not, it’s a perceived threat…you feel threatened whether or not the other person intended to convey that threat.
If you’d like to change how you respond to conflict (or someone else has suggested you ought to), one of the most successful ways to begin doing so is to learn how to manage your conflict triggers. When you’re aware of your triggers, you increase the likelihood of managing your emotional responses and decrease the chance of getting “hooked” by the conflict.
I’ve found it fruitful with clients to use Dr. Stella Ting-Toomey’s taxonomy of six core identities as some of our most common triggers. In my experience, most triggering events can be tracked back to one of these:
- Competence – you’re triggered when you perceive that someone is questioning your intelligence or skills.
- Inclusion – you’re triggered when someone appears to be excluding you in some way (from a group, an event, a committee, etc.) or implies you’re not a good companion.
- Autonomy – you’re triggered when someone appears to be trying to control you, imposing on you, or threatening your self-reliance.
- Status – you’re triggered when you perceive that someone is threatening or dissing your tangible and intangible assets, including power, position, economic worth, and attractiveness.
- Reliability – you’re triggered when you perceive that someone is questioning your trustworthiness or dependability.
- Morality – you’re triggered when someone appears to be questioning your moral values or integrity.
Properly identifying your conflict triggers is a first major step to changing the way you interact with others at home and at work. The next step is to develop ways to prevent those triggers from engaging too quickly and to back yourself up when you’re on the brink of getting hooked. If this is work you’re interested in for yourself (or for an employee), I’d like you to consider hiring me as your coach, as it’s one of the areas I most enjoy in the conflict management coaching portion of my work.
Next time you find yourself blaming another for a conflict that has unraveled unproductively, consider these words from psychologist Jeffrey Kottler: “Every person you fight with has many other people in his life with whom he gets along quite well. You cannot look at a person who seems difficult to you without also looking at yourself.”