Don’t you just love the “animal” analogies that are so common in conflict resolution? I do. They help me remember how universal conflict really is–and make me take a step-back and examine how I approach my own conflict.

So, this animal analogy is about the skunk and the turtle, and here’s how you know which one you are:

You’re a skunk if you’re not afraid of conflict. In fact, when skunks are in conflict with someone, they tend to “stink up the place.” By that, I mean that skunks like to dominate the person with whom they’re in conflict. When a skunk feels attacked, some will be emotionally aggressive, somewhat manipulative, and make the conflict worse by adding to it.

You’re a turtle if you avoid conflict whenever possible. Turtles sense conflict and immediately retreat into their “shells.” If a turtle senses a conflict is brewing, he or she will literally tuck and run–and leave the conflict in place.

And, here’s something interesting: the person from whom I heard this analogy says most married couples have one of each. Food for thought.

Of course, most of us want to be somewhere in between a skunk and a turtle. We don’t want to be afraid of conflict, but we don’t want to seek it out, either. We want to be assertive when we approach the other party, but we don’t want to be aggressive. We want to hold our boundaries, but we don’t want to encroach on someone else’s.

It’s a delicate balance, and many of us will spend a lifetime trying to strike that balance.

But, the next time you’re in conflict, step-out of the moment long enough to ask yourself: am I being a skunk or a turtle?

Britt

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