There was a time in my life when I felt like I was in one endless argument, either with someone that worked for me, someone I worked for, a customer, or my wife at the end of a fourteen-hour day. It cost me jobs, good jobs. At its worst, my wife admitted that she and my son were afraid of me because I was so explosive.
Everything changed for me when I entered a Certified Coach training program. It required that I learn some painful things about myself…one of which was: I was the source of the conflict in my life. And when I stopped being the source, all of the conflict melted away.
Learning to manage conflict in myself has helped me to learn to manage conflict in others. I truly feel I was given a gift of peace.
People limit themselves in life based on their ability to get along with others. Many allow themselves to be ruled by their emotions. When we’re emotionally reactive, we’re not our best selves, nor do we produce the smartest outcomes. Emotional reactions create winners and losers. And winning directly at the expense of another is actually losing in disguise, due to the resentment that’s borne in the loser, as a result.
Often, people get stuck in a pattern when reacting emotionally, long past the time when the combativeness that once served them no longer does. Long past the time when the pattern has become destructive without them being aware of it. Many want to change that part of themselves; they want more peaceful interactions, more successful outcomes, but they don’t know how to achieve that.
I’m a Certified Professional Coach through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching. I hold a bachelor of science degree in accountancy from Providence College, and a master’s of business administration degree with a concentration in finance from Providence College’s School of Business.
For twenty-nine years, I’ve worked in and around the automobile business. For the past five of those years, I’ve worked to become a top coach on Ford Motor Company’s Consumer Experience Movement (CEM) project, covering twenty-two dealerships in seven states. In my capacity as coach, I’m responsible for developing the dealerships’ 2,500 people (and the organizations themselves), both personally and professionally, to better understand the ways they’re limiting themselves in life and to break through those limitations to new levels of performance. As a result, I have logged thousands and thousands of hours of individual coaching, with the vast majority of those hours specifically focused on helping others manage conflict.
“Pretend you’re describing yourself to a stranger, and you’d like that stranger to know everything about you, that you’d want them to know, in six, eight, or ten words. What are those words?”
“Tell me about a situation that tends to bring out your worst, that turns you into that person that you don’t want to be, but are anyway.”
“When they put me in the ground…that’s not what I want to be remembered for.”
There’s a saying: “What makes someone good, also makes them bad.” The idea being that a strength too strong can also become a weakness. The proverb, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is apt in characterizing our tendency to deploy proven skills when faced with adversity.
Inexplicably, I had crossed some invisible threshold that turned my proven skill—self-survival, fueled by rage and conflict—into self-destruction. In everyday life, being hyper-vigilant, eternally on-guard, defensive to the point of becoming offensive, is a detriment. Not only for me, but everyone around me.
One of the assignments I completed during Certified Professional Coach training was to identify specific parts of my life that I wanted to change, or characteristics of myself that I wanted to be different. Because I struggled with conflict, I did an honest assessment of how conflict was negatively impacting my life.
Writing, “Wife and son afraid of me,” seeing it on paper, admitting that it was real, acknowledging it was destructive, that’s the moment I knew I had to change that part of me, but I had no idea how to do that.
· Feel like I’m in one endless argument
· Thankless job
· Thankless life
· Broken relationships
· Success at the expense of others
· Loss of job, income
· Loss of professional confidence
· Doubt my ability provide for my family
· Wife and son afraid of me
Part of my coaching involves telling my story. When I do, many of the people I work with tell me: “you just described my life.” Hearing the story of my struggle to manage conflict helps those I coach relate to their own stories, and it gives them confidence that if I was able to work through it, so can they.
When telling my story, I focus on the destructive nature of living conflict, chronicling the causes, the behavior that resulted, and the aftermath. I discuss how actions that were once productive and helped me survive, ultimately became destructive in my life.
“I love your ideas. I can encourage you to combine our work in any way and can write an endorsement for your book.”
Author: Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts—Becoming The Person You Want To Be; What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.
Meeting with Richard Burke yesterday was phenomenal. He has great insight to the daily obstacles we all face as managers, and how to overcome them.
Department Manager, Volkswagen Dealership — Regional Automotive Group
I wanted to take a moment to thank you again, for taking the time to help me understand the path that my actions can take. In the couple of days since, I have had a chance to apply some of the things you showed me. I can feel a difference in how I react to situations. I know the next time you visit, you will see the difference. Thanks again for your input and help.
Dealer Principal, General Manager, Ford Dealership — Regional Automotive Group
It was great to meet you yesterday. I left our meeting feeling very encouraged. I’m sure many people would not understand how I remain confident that we will be able to work through our difficulties. You confirmed to me that it’s worth the effort. I’m already working on an ‘action plan’ based on your feedback.
Department Manager, Ford Dealership — Regional Automotive Group
Whenever I work one-on-one with people who are wrestling with conflict, it’s done in a professional setting, conducted in a business context. Meaning, the scope is largely focused on those people’s relationships at work. Inevitably, these people demonstrate the most concern about their dearest relationships – the manager who breaks down emotionally and says, “Now I know what I’ve done to my wife for all these years.” Or the workshop attendee who pulls me aside to talk about his broken relationship with his son.
Conflict is pervasive. Those who struggle with it don’t leave it at home when they head to the office. They don’t leave it behind at work when they return back home. And that’s why it’s so critically important for them to learn how to manage conflict. It negatively impacts every relationship, everywhere.
According to the 2013 Executive Coaching Survey—conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business—how to handle conflict ranks as the highest area of concern for CEOs.
When asked what is the biggest area for their own personal development, nearly forty-three percent of CEOs rated conflict management skills the highest.
R.W. Burke is an expert in coaching team members, managers, and executives through conflict related issues. Please use this contact form to retain him for: One-on-One Coaching Assignments, Single or Multi-Day Coaching Conflict Workshops, Subject-Matter-Expert Interviews, and Speaking Engagements addressing the topic of conflict for your organization.
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