Conflict pain and the dog beneath the desk

conflict pain

A friend was sitting at her desk, her beloved lab at her feet. Suddenly, the dog yelped and looked up at her. This happened several more times, the dog’s gaze becoming increasingly more accusatory. Finally, he got up and left the room.

Later, she learned the dog had a pinched nerve in his neck. She wondered aloud to the vet about the dog repeatedly looking up at her each time he felt a jolt of pain. Was he asking for help? No, thought the vet, he was looking for the source of the pain and you were the only thing close enough to be hurting him. He didn’t understand the pain was from within.

We do this in conflict, too: We experience the pain of conflict and associate the other person with the discomfort we’re experiencing. They did, after all, say or do something right at the moment we felt the jolt. They were the only thing close enough to be hurting us. There’s even a term for this experience: The misattribution of arousal.

But we forget there’s someone even closer: Ourselves.

Our conflict pain, discomfort, and anger are powerful hints. Our conflict triggers tell us something. What a gift to take the time to explore the message waiting to be uncovered.

Photo credit: pmarkham

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  1. says

    What a fortuitous tale of woe. Tomorrow morning I have a meeting at the monthly breakfast networking event of Les Femmes d’Affaires de l’Est de Montreal (Business Women of the East of Montreal) at which I will be making a 30 minute presentation on ‘Conflict Coaching’. I would love to tell them this story..with your permission of course

    • says

      By all means, Patrick. I’d appreciate it if you’d let them know the source and mention my url ( Have fun with your presentation and say hello to Montreal for me…we lived for many years in Burlington, VT and Montreal was a regular visiting spot.

  2. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. says

    You are so good at taking every day experiences (well, poor dog–hope it’s not everyday for the lab) and elegantly connecting it to a conflict lesson. Well done, as usual.

  3. says

    Jagoda – Thanks for the kind words. I see so many things around me that offer insight for conflict resolution and negotiation. I imagine you have that experience too.

    Yuki – I love meeting a fellow rescue dog owner! Conflict can feel mysterious, can’t it…creeping up on us sometimes, leaping out at us the next.

  4. says

    This is a hard lesson to keep learning, Tammy, and yet one that restores my power. Unlike the sweet lab, I can learn from and do something about the pain. Thanks, as always!

  5. says

    very interesting metaphore..and it’s really true…most of the time we are the source of the pain and we don’t (or we don’t want to) see it.
    Thanks for sharing it.