Be disruptive to manage conflict?

Uncategorized Jan 16, 2020

As a child, I was occasionally described as being disruptive. As I recall, this was seldom used in a positive or complementary fashion. I think I was just ahead of my time because today, it has become fashionable in some circles to be disruptive.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to recommend you should go out of your way to create havoc in other people’s lives or your own, for that matter. I do suggest, however, that when you find yourself in a dispute with someone, you may want to look for ways to disrupt the process.

For example, you might be in the midst of a difficult situation with your teenage son or daughter. You could abruptly say something like, “I’m all of a sudden in the mood for an ice cream cone. How about we drive over and get one and talk about this in the car?” Or, perhaps, you could say to a co-worker “hold on, this isn’t getting us anywhere. How about we go for a walk and talk about it along the way?”

Please be prepared for a look and response of shock, but make your plea in a gentle, inviting manner, and you may just get a positive response.

I learned a disruptive concept from conflict resolution consultant Tammy Lenski (www.tammylenski.com). She suggests that in the midst of an ugly confrontation, either party can simply say “well why don’t we just fight about this.” The comment is meant to bring attention to the futility of what they are doing and hopefully lead to a more productive interaction. It might also induce a bit of laughter, which is usually, if not always a positive intervention.

According to Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just ListenTalking to Crazy and other excellent books, when people are verbally attacking each other, what they are more likely doing is defending themselves from perceived attacks from the other. If he is correct, and I believe he is, either person can dramatically stop the process with a disruption of some sort, which will hopefully entice the other to join in their pursuit of peace.

It’s a safe bet that at some point in your life, you have found yourself in a verbal altercation with a customer or client, a co-worker, or a family member. Chances are these bring back negative, painful memories for you. It is also likely that those confrontations did not end well, at least while they were occurring. So the next time you find yourself at odds with someone and the temperature begins to rise, look for a way to disrupt the process and hopefully steer it in a better direction.

One of my favorite disruptions is simply to call a time out. Acknowledge that the conversation is not going well and own your part in that. You must remember, however, that this is a time-out, not a cop-out. If you request a pause in the conversation, you owe it to the other person to indicate when the discussion will resume – hopefully, when cooler heads may prevail. A time-out or disruptive pause should last between 30 minutes and 24 hours, except by mutual consent.

As I often say, conflict is inevitable in life but damaged relationships are optional. By breaking the pattern of hostile interactions, you can free up more time for peaceful encounters and healthier relationships. As they used to say in the old commercial, “try it – you’ll like it!”

To add your name to my weekly mailing list, please send me an e-mail at [email protected] or visit www.PlayNiceinYourSandbox.com.

Ron Price MA is the owner/operator of Productive Outcomes, Inc. He has spent the last 30+ years as a mediator helping people resolve their differences with others. He provides workshop training and presentations on a variety of life skills. For more information visit www.PlayNiceinYourSandbox.com or send an e-mail to [email protected] or call Ron at 505 324-6328.


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