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Metaphors for conflict competence

September 24, 2011

It was a real pleasure to be in a workshop with Bernie Mayer on Friday in Edmonton Alberta. I learned a lot and very much enjoyed the conversation with about a dozen conflict managers. Somewhere in the discussion, this expression was used:–

Pick your battles.

It’s a cliché and it’s powerful in its message to walk away, avoid, withdraw.

‘Pick’ suggests exclusion, a narrowing down from many to one or a few. –˜Battles’ imports the image that we are facing many fights of which we will engage in the one or few we deem worthy of us. The aggression in ‘picking’ and ‘battles’ goes a little way towards making us feel in control of the course of life or relationships.

Other common clichés we say to explain the reason we accept something instead of resisting it, when the energy isn’t there for the effort.

This isn’t a hill to die on or
Live to fight another day.

  • Dying on any hill, literal or imaginary, detracts from the quality of the life I want to live.
  • Certainly, I want to live another day, preferably to engage with the world in a positive, productive and purposeful way.
  • We use hostile sayings mindlessly, meaning we don’t pay attention to the power of the words.
  • If we’re serious about creating a culture of conflict competence, here’s a good place to start – by being intentional about the metaphors and language we use.
    • Choose your conversation
    • My preference is to walk in peace
    • Live to engage in talk again

Next time you manage a situation to deal competently with conflict, give yourself credit for the decisions you made. Out of all the responses possible, let’s rewrite the expressions to use conflict competent words.


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