Mindfulness and Conflict

Guest Blog Post from Mark Adams – President of Achievement Edge, LLC

While most of us know it is important to manage our thinking and our emotions when we are in a conflict it is quite another to actually do it, or even know how.

The term ‘mindfulness’ has gained popularity over the last few years, but what does it mean?  Mindfulness is derived from eastern philosophy whereby there is a great emphasis on the importance of being mentally present or consciously aware of our emotions, thoughts and the people we interact with.

If you have ever had someone “multitask” while speaking to you about an important topic by checking email, answering calls, or being otherwise distracted, you know how it feels to not be connected, or have the full attention or respect of the person to which we are communicating.

How many times have we driven to work and not been able to remember the drive or forgotten the details of a conversation with someone?  We all do this.  However, allowing our minds to wander off and think about what we are mad about can escalate the problem and hinder our ability to listen.  Instead, we need to be able to learn how to catch ourselves and focus our attention on the conversation or people to which we are speaking.

Watch someone become extremely angry in an argument and say things or behave in such a way they destroy trust, respect, and credibility.  In comparison, think of someone who responds calmly by demonstrating grace under pressure, instead of exploding or getting defensive when tensions mount or they are under attack.

This is not to suggest these people do not feel emotion or are somehow detached.  In many cases, it is the opposite.  Being present (or mindful depending upon which term you prefer) is not about solely focusing on what we want or remaining distant from others or our emotions.  Mindfulness is more about tuning into what is going on and reflecting on our purpose, needs, and concerns, while remaining clear headed, instead of reacting with strong emotion.

We probably know our ability to think clearly suffers when we are stressed, emotional, or angry.  Unfortunately, we may be skilled at pushing buttons in order to get others off center or prevent them from thinking clearly, so we can hold the upper hand or influence decisions.  The more clear headed we remain through mindfulness training, the more effective we will be in our conflicts and interactions with others.

Aside from improving our ability to think clearly, mindfulness is important because it can help set or maintain the tone of an interaction.  Our emotional temperature and approachability influences others on many levels.  In neuroscience, scientists are beginning to learn about ‘mirror neurons’.  Essentially, how we behave stimulates key areas in the brains of those we are interacting with by triggering the same areas of the brain responsible for the thought or emotion.  On a subtle level, we can ‘mirror’ others by feeling and acting in a similar way.  If we are loud and angry, the person we are interacting with is likely to match this behavior; however, if we are able to maintain our composure, we can actually help the other side calm down….to some extent.

This is not a manipulative ploy and does not guarantee the other person will not remain upset.  However, matching someone’s tone or escalating the interaction typically leads to poor thinking, inappropriate communication, and high emotion.  While we have a lot to learn about how mirror neurons work, it is not difficult to see this in action.  Think of a time when an angry person entered a room and put everyone on guard just by their presence.  Likewise, someone incredibly calm or full of joy might enter a room and change the moods of others.

The question remains, “How do we become more mindful in our conflicts?”  While there are several methods and techniques, it is important to realize mindfulness is a process or state of being, not simply a skill to be acquired.  Mindfulness requires practice, even in the most mundane settings.  To be more effective and mindful in our conflicts, we need to start becoming more aware and conscious of our thinking during our daily tasks.

Practicing and becoming more mindful of our attention can help us become more cognizant and focused when it matters most, such as in a conflict when we are emotionally hooked.  Learning to take a slow deep breath while quieting our thinking can be extremely valuable.  We can also tune into our physical indicators such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Upset stomach
  • Shallow breathing

Whatever it may be for us, we need to recognize we are becoming upset or off-center and bring ourselves back to the present.  Creating anchors to remind ourselves to relax breathe, and pay attention to what is going on can be a great help.  Practice mindfulness by taking a deep breath before answering a call or mirroring someone’s tone of voice reminding you to return to center.  Learning to redirect our thoughts away from emotion and toward content can increase our effectiveness in working with people.

The more we learn to be mindful and focus on solutions, the greater our ability to work with others both during and outside of conflicts.

Mark Adams Achievement Edge, Mindfulness and Conflict

Mark A. Adams is an accomplished professional with diverse experience in business, education, and coaching. Mark is the author of Courageous Conflict: Leading with Integrity and Authenticity and is the Owner of Achievement Edge, LLC, a consulting practice focused on coaching leaders, groups, and individuals in the areas of conflict, leadership, teamwork and thinking skills. As a certified mediator, Mark is available for group facilitation and conflict coaching. His experience includes team building, communication, conflict resolution and leadership development. His primary focus is about helping people learn better ways to think about, learn from and resolve conflicts while challenging limiting beliefs. Mark lives in Colorado with his wife, two children, three dogs, and cats where he enjoys kayaking, hiking, camping, and photography.

Email: Mark@achievementedgetraining.com

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Courageous Conflict - Mark Adams


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