Tag Archives: conflict management

First “Conflict” Once Removed

A favorite game at extended family reunions used to be point out a tribe member and then see who could properly to identify the relationship. My first cousin Charlie was an expert. He would remind me that my kids were his first cousins once removed as well as our aunt due to a great aunt adopting one of our mother’s sisters. I usually was quickly lost when we would play where Charlie could maintain clarity and rattle off the titles of everyone in the room.

Relationship chart

Relationship chart

Charlie’s gift has kept on giving this week as I have been muddling over how to decipher and describe conflict relationships. Using my cousin’s logic, you’ve got your first degree disputes: you and another are fighting over something. If it is a business relationship, you and that person might be the named parties on the mediation documents. At home, the two kids screaming in your hallway at each other would be the clear participants in the battle. In these cases, we know the disputants or the “sides.”

Meanwhile, what about the sister/wife/business partner/friend of one of the folks you would name above? How would you name her? And, more importantly what is her role?

In honor of Charlie, I want to give that sister/wife/business partner a title — 1st Disputant Once Removed or 1DOR.  A 1DOR will be anyone who is one step back from a conflict, but connected due to their personal connection to a direct player.

Being a 1DOR is a muddy role.  If your wife is fighting with another, does that mean you are fighting with that person as well? What can you say? Where, if anywhere, are your opinions best spoken? In the case of the two kids screaming in the hallway, what is the best position for the third sibling who was in her room reading?

Sometimes we can stay out of the battle while it is fought and resolved. Our loved ones can fight with another while we listen and stay out of the fray. We might provide a few words of encouragement or support as tempers rise and recede. Conflict brings opportunity, but it is also messy, risky and can be dangerous, so laying low would be an advised strategy here.

Meanwhile, some disputes linger and battle lines are drawn. The third sibling can’t hide in her room forever. Your family feuds with a neighbor for years, do we wave at the neighbor when you pass him in the car?  Who is fighting in the US with the government of Afghanistan?

I met with a friend last week who shared she has been exhibiting symptoms of anxiety seemingly for no apparent reason. It was disconcerting her, but as we discussed the past months, it became clear that her role as a 1DOR for both sides of an ongoing dispute had been wearing her down. She can’t escape the enduring conflict, she has little power to resolve it and doesn’t want to take sides.  As I listened, I wondered when my 1DOR status has adversely affected me without my conscious awareness? Stepping back, I was struck by how often I have been a 1DOR as a sister, mother, wife, friend, employee, community member and citizen. This called me to consider more deeply how I can best play in that role.

In my next posts, I will cover how we might naturally react as a 1DOR given our default conflict styles and an ancient Hindu practice upon which we can draw for support.

Working together

To explain not posting for the last ten days, I noticed that I was reluctant to admit that we just returned from a California vacation. That reaction seems strange considering in our small town it is an annual communal practice to head south or to the mountains when Montana State University closes its doors for spring break. Go to Moab, Costa Rica and Whistler the third week of March and you will be sure to cross paths with a Bozemanite. Vacation plans have always been standard small talk here where nine months of the year yield snow.

Yet, standing in the grocery check out line earlier this month an acquaintance shared how she was driving two hours away to ski this year to “be good.”  I receive a weekly email that broadcasts queries from reporters and I’d say a good dozen of these requests have been on the theme of “Are you still going on vacation, or should you, during an economic downturn?” After watching the attached TED video, I’m wondering if my vacation sharing reticence comes from trying to fly with the flock!



I have been long fascinated with how groups move in unison without apparent choreography. What makes a team rally behind a particular leader? How do organizations suddenly coalesce around a creative solution? What creates a new industry trend? Mathematician Steven Strogatz explains that the synchronized movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are easily modeled using three basic principles:

  • A member watches those next to him
  • Group members tend to line up
  • Group members are attracted to one another

When a predator attacks, a fourth principle is added:

  • In danger, get out of the way!

Birds scatter and then flock once more as they respond to external attacks; are we attempting to do the same as we adjust to global or regional surprises?  I must be applying the first principle as it pertains to discretionary spending, yet recognize, as Strogatz explains, that too much synchronized movement can be detrimental to the whole.  Following the presented theory, it might be interesting to consider how we can  “fly right” in these times. I welcome your thoughts!


I believe people want to be of service. As the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz once said, “The nectar of life is sweet only when shared with others.” You may not buy my hypothesis when you think of others whom appear very self-centered, but I believe that this comes not from their desire, but their ability to give. I am suspicious that a key component in the ability to serve is tied to what I like to call the Bucket Theory.

 Derived from a common cross-cultural belief, we can think of each of us containing an internal water bucket. When it is full, this “water” can be used to nurture, give life to new projects or to brighten another’s day. The water is the good stuff that we give to the world.

 Yet, giving empties the bucket. Ask a new mother about her internal reserves to get a sense of how giving drains us. Tough times also empty the bucket. When my own needs become greater, for example recovering from the loss of a loved one, I’m going to going to be dipping the ladle in my own bucket much more often just to survive.

 When there is nothing in the bucket, there is nothing left to give.  If my can is dry, it’s hard to be a helpful employee, wife, mother or friend. If I am really parched, I may be coming after your bucket too! At an extreme in this state, we become like vampires sucking the life out of our victims.  It is thus critical as parents, leaders and coworkers that we keep our own internal reservoirs in tact. Yet, how is that done? 

We fill our buckets through physical, emotional, creative and intellectual sustenance or activities that feed our bodies, our hearts and minds. These are usually fun, bring us joy or make us ultimately feel better – they “fill” us! It is not the activity, but how it makes you feel. We are not looking for a short term pleasure hit like escaping into a television show or eating ice cream…feels good for a half an hour but then leaves us in the same drained state.  We are looking for activities that are truly good for us. Activities might include:


  • Healthy food
  • Sustainable exercise
  • Sleep


  • Fun times with friends and family
  • Silence
  • Time in nature


  • Favorite artistic activities
  • Inspirational reading or film


  • An interesting class
  • Thought-provoking book
  • Engaging discussion

Gallup researcher Tom Rath suggests in How Full Is Your Bucket?  it is positive remarks received at work and home that can fill our bucket. Regardless, what sustains each of us will be unique.  Visiting with friends can be fun, nurturing or at times stressful. Exercise can be energizing or terribly draining. In general, when filling the bucket we want to include activities that replenish rather than require an outflow.

And so, some questions to consider:

  • What sustains you?
  • Are you including sustaining activities each day?
  • How are you providing sustenance to your physical, emotional, creative and intellectual nature?


Shifting Paradigms through Music

I wanted to share a novel approach to creating positive change. Grammy winning filmmaker Mark Johnson believes that music can be a powerful transformative tool. As the founder of Playing for Change (gotta love that name), he has spent the last ten years bringing musicians together to remix classics and foster greater global understanding. The attached video was performed by more than 100 musicians from New Orleans, Tibet, Russia and Africa…and everyone seems to be playing well! Check out the Playing for Change website to learn more.

Play and Its Connection to Creativity

I wanted to share Tim Brown’s speech at 2008 Serious Play Conference on how holding a “playful” mindset enhances our ability to find solutions. Brown is the CEO of the California-based design firm Ideo. I appreciate how Brown eloquently builds a strong business case for playing well and its innate rules. Enjoy!