Life is a Contact Sport

There’s a lot of pushing and shoving in the game of life, and there are a lot of wounds that result from conflict. You cannot move through life, with your eyes on a goal, and avoid contact. To have a successful life, you must have the mindset that the conflicts you encounter can have results that are beneficial, rather than damaging.

Human interaction and contact can quickly escalate to conflict, and so much trouble is born in those moments when people lose control. We see this too often. In sports, teams lose control and the benches are cleared for an all-out brawl. Then players get ejected. On the highway, angry drivers lose control and exhibit road rage. Then accidents happen. In relationships one person loses control and abuse occurs. Then someone gets hurt. At this point, normal contact has exceeded proper boundaries. These are situations that need intervention, and in some cases, significant help. When conflict goes too far, things are said and done that will be regretted for a lifetime.

Often in everyday life, we are so stressed, pressured, and rushed that hostility simmers just below the surface and can erupt at the slightest offense or inconvenience. Sometimes we find ourselves on a full collision path with those around us. I believe it is critical to have a plan in place for those times of collision - those inevitable times when you do not agree, when there is dissension, or even when you find yourself in the midst of an outright controversy.

I have a mental checklist that I run though when circumstances begin to heat up, and this plan has helped me many times to slow down and make a wise choice rather than to rush headlong into a situation where my initial reactions or words could be very damaging. I use the acrostic ‘SLOW’ for conflict resolution, and the word itself is a reminder that to rush is often to stumble.

S - STOP
Just stop right where you are. If you are in a location that is creating immediate tension, remove yourself immediately. You need a few minutes, or perhaps longer, to make sure you have a handle on yourself and your own emotions before proceeding. Get away from the source of trouble. Go to another room, go outside, or, if none of these options are available, at least shut down – no talking – and take several moments to compose yourself. It is essential that you are in control of your own thoughts, actions and reactions. You are responsible for yourself. Don’t let someone goad you into rash action.
Stop and regroup.

L - LISTEN
Very often conflict and collisions arise because of miscommunication. Don’t let that be the case for you. Go back to the person with whom you are disagreeing and start the conversation over. This time, don’t interrupt, don’t interpret and don’t infer. Just listen to them. Hear them out. Sometimes people just want to be heard. No matter if this resolves the situation or not, you will be miles ahead because you have taken the time to hear their side. Then you will know if perhaps they misunderstood or got bad information. You will at least know their position. Listen carefully and intentionally.

O - OPTIONS
The biggest skill in conflict resolution is to be able to reach a compromise through options that are acceptable to both sides. If you can work with the other party to create a plan where both of you leave knowing you are better off, you will win. This means you must have options. Your way may not be the right way, and is certainly not the only way. You must treat the other person with the same respect that you wish to receive, and come up with a plan. Come up with more than one alternative, if possible, and even include a few innovative ideas to make the resolution better. Don’t have the attitude of ‘my way or the highway.’ Be creative with options.

W - WORK
A small disagreement may be over just as quickly as it started, but very often, conflict has been brewing for a long time and will not be resolved with one conversation. You must be committed to working out the option that was chosen. You must also work on your attitude. It’s quite easy to look with a jaded eye at someone with whom you have disagreed. You may expect the same situation to repeat, or at the very least, you would not be surprised if it did. This attitude is very detrimental to long term resolution. It takes concentrated effort to rebuild a relationship. Prepare yourself for hard work.

Conflict is inevitable, but resolution is possible, and the result can be infinitely rewarding. So SLOW yourself down, and do not let the collisions of life master you.

By having a plan to deal with conflict, you will be much less disappointed when life throws you a curveball. Life is problematic and competitive, and this is not a bad thing. This is not evil. It’s the way things ought to be, because honest competition makes us better. Competition forces us to provide better products and better services at a faster pace and a lower price. Pure competition is good, and conflict is the natural consequence of competition.

With no opposition and no challenges, life would be dull indeed. Do not wish for an easy life. You will never grow if you stay in your comfort zone. Embrace the contact and the conflict. Know that through the struggle comes the satisfaction of winning. 

Conflict and competition sharpen us. They refine us, and they keep us on our toes. There is nothing wrong with competition, but there is everything wrong with animosity. There is nothing wrong with conflict, but there is everything wrong with hurting other people or damaging their reputations. You need to learn that competition is the name of the game and that conflict is a way of life. Don’t let the fear of these things hold you back. Take a moment, S.L.O.W. and resolve the issues.

Have the mindset to accept the competitive nature of life, and have a plan to deal with inevitable friction. Keep your head up, and know that competition makes you better. 

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