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Brilliant Stress Management by Dr. Mike Clayton

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172 brilliant stress management
A word of warning
Please do not try to over-interpret a single gesture. Look for
patterns and clusters of signs. A single gesture usually means
nothing: I may touch my brow because I disagree, or maybe
because I have an itch. I may hug my arms around my body
because I am anxious, or because I am cold.
Recognising avoidance
Conicts tend to escalate when people avoid contentious issues
that need to get resolved, so the stakes have increased by the
time we confront them. So, you know that there is a problem,
but you don’t address it and, despite your hopes, it does not
go away. If you don’t discuss it, the distrust and negative feel-
ings towards the other person increase, as you start to fantasise
about their motives and intentions, which is all you can do in the
absence of real information.
This causes you to lose perspective on the real issue and start to
attach blame for the situation. You hear yourself talk about the
other person in abstract terms and with sweeping generalisa-
tions. They have ceased to be Jack or Jackie and are now he or
she, who is always this’ and never that’. So the tensions grow
and the conict escalates, even if the issue itself has not devel-
oped or grown in any way. Familiar?
Five approaches to dealing with conflict
We have ve fundamental approaches to dealing with conict.
Approach 1: Step away
Of course, avoiding conict is sometimes the right thing to do.
Step away when you cannot possibly win, when the issue really
is not important, or if the emotional temperature is too high,
and you want to wait for a better time to engage with another
approach.
Manage stress caused by conflict 173
But do not use this as a tactic merely to put off the inevitable, or
to goad the other person. Both will probably have the effect of
escalating the conict to no benet for either party.
Approach 2: Make concessions
Making concessions to the other person is a way of de-escalating
the conict, but beware that each concession may encourage
manipulative behaviour that seeks a further concession. So, make
each new concession smaller than the last – about half of the
value. This creates a self-limiting process. This is a good strategy
when you realise that ‘winning’ on this issue is less important than
maintaining good relations and can also sometimes set up a sense
of obligation that can mean you will win concessions ‘next time’.
If there can be no next time, then this approach has less value.
If you nd yourself using this approach a lot, check with yourself
that it is fully justied each time, and not a sign of low self-
esteem. Making concessions can be a passive behaviour, where
you do not expect the concession to be reciprocated. Then it
becomes appeasement.
Approach 3: Play to win
When the outcome really matters to you and you have no qualms
about the risk of further escalation, then playing to win will be
your preferred approach. Use this strategy when you know you
are right and when there is no time for debate, or when there
is no chance of defusing the conict, and getting a resolution
quickly will minimise the harm.
But avoid the cycle of aggressive or bullying behaviour when
winning becomes an end in itself, and you do not consider the
consequences of the approach, nor the rights and wrongs of the
outcomes you are pressing for. This will lose you respect as well
as friends, and will ultimately fail when you come up against
someone bigger and stronger than you are.

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