DO This: How I prepare for conflict situations

Conflict-photo

2016-05-30 15.43.10Monday was haircut day.  I mean seriously dude?  Cut that hair.

Ok, I have been busy.  Conflict.  I am getting there.  As I walked into Rudy’s on Capital Hill (no I didn’t use the damn app to book an appointment – you shouldn’t need a damn appointment for a barber shop), a buddy of mine was sitting in the chair finishing up.  I had been thinking about this friend lately and meaning to connect.  Love that about Seattle.  The desk guy said it would be a half hour wait, so I ask my buddy if he has time for a coffee.  He says “How about a beer?  Or five?”  Seeing as it was well past noon (around 2:30) I say “Sure.”

Turns out my friend was staring down the barrel of a potentially explosive rendezvous with his girlfriend on Thursday who he had the distinct impression was trying to dump him in the middle of a bunch of other shit at work.  He had about a dozen tactical offensive strategies tumbling around in his head and wanted some advice.  Less than half a beer in it was clear that his monkey mind was in full-blown panic.   Summoning my best practices over the years I directed him toward strategies I have found successful.  Three beers later (thankfully it didn’t take all five) we had agreed on an approach which was not originally on his list and in fact was about 180 degrees from the direction he was going.

This episode has caused me to think about and organize (somewhat) my thoughts on how to prepare for upcoming potential conflict.  Here goes.

While every type of potential conflict has a different fact pattern, I have found that this framework can significantly reduce the fireworks and generate a greater percentage of “win-win” (hate that term) results. I have used this basic approach both when I am the instigator/aggressor of the conflict (firing a poor performing employee, talking to a family member about money, collecting a debt, etc.) and when I suspect to be the target of aggression (the board member wants an impromptu  “update” on company performance, the girlfriend wants to “talk”, a key employee wants to “have a coffee” just before bonus time, my daughter says “dad, do you have a minute?”).

The Old way: Outcome Oriented Offense.

Until very recently, my normal response to impending conflict/danger was:

Delay/Deflect.  Try to avoid conflict at all costs. Change the subject.  Move the meeting.  Deny everything.  Cut the conversation short.  Have sex instead.  Turn on the TV.  Take a trip.  Bring up a much larger problem involving someone else.  This avoided 60-70% of the conflict.

If defensive fails, move to offense.

Ready.  Figure out who/what was the threat.  Demonize them.  Remind myself of my superiority and righteousness.

Aim.  Plan an offensive attack.  Rehearse all the reasons I was right.  Be clear on what I wanted/needed out of the situation.  Be prepared to fight to the death for the win.

Fire.  Go in with guns blazing.  Do not listen (that is weakness) or only listen as a delay/distraction tactic.  When faced with arguments that diverged from my own beliefs, double down on beliefs, say them louder.  Win with superior force, will and might.  Win at all costs.  Never retreat.

Move on.  If I win, gloat.  Do not be gracious in victory, maybe even flip the looser off, give them a kick in the ass out the door.  If I lose, cut that person/thing out of my life as irrelevant and continue on with my own original beliefs intact. Conflict was not a learning experience, it was win/loose.  Win/Win is just what winners say, not an actual desired outcome.  Keep moving at all cost.

This was basically the approach my friend was taking to his upcoming potential conflict with the girlfriend.  This approach is very outcome oriented – Win, stay alive.  In certain existential situations (war with a clear enemy trying to kill you, the tiger trying to eat you) our natural fight of flight response serves us very well.  Unfortunately about 95% of the conflicts we face are not truly existential, yet we tend to respond as if they are.

The New way: Process oriented empathy and understanding.

I have heard many people express a fear that focusing on process over outcomes (taking your eye off the ball) will lead to less goal achievement.  In my experience stacking up a bunch of wins while everyone else looses eventually leaves the winner very alone, unfulfilled and wondering what went wrong.  This process orientation strengthens my life force and my interpersonal network rather than weakening it through solo victories and cutting off the looser.

Here is what I (try) to do these days which I have found to be much more successful in resolving conflict (I still hate “win/win”).  Occasionally I even learn something or grow (imagine that).  This approach is definitely preferred with anyone who you must continue to deal with over time (family, friends, co-workers).   Fewer people will feel like you are an asshole.  Even a few may appreciate your problem solving skills and want to hang out more often (a particular benefit with the girl/boyfriend).

When facing a potential conflict situation:

Prepare.  Get the facts straight.  Focus on the facts.  Try to remove any judgement or critique about the situation.  Answer these questions for yourself.  In fact write them down on one side of a blank piece of paper.

  1. What do I think happened (or is going to happen)?  If the boss calls you into the office and you start catastrophizing that he may want to fire you, ask this question.  What really happened?  He asked for a meeting.  Nothing more.
  2. What feelings are you having about the situation?  Name every feeling you are having.  Use a feeling list.  Believe it or not there are more feelings that fear and anger and happiness.  Keep away from judgments about the feelings.
  3. What do I want out of this situation?  Not the tactics, like I want the fight to be over as soon as possible.  Or I want to win.  What is your real motivation here? What is your deepest desire for an outcome here?  Do I want to win against my girlfriend, or do I want us to grow in understanding of each other?  Again do not judge.  One good tactic is imagine the optimal outcome of the conflict and list the feelings you would have about the outcome and the other person involved (yes another feeling list is useful).  You may decide you just want the win and don’t give a shit about the consequences.  Just be crystal clear.

Now do the same for the other person who will be in the conflict. Write those down on the other side of the paper.  Exercise your empathy muscle.  While you can’t absolutely know someone else’s motivation, their feelings or what they want, you can certainly try to figure it out.  Many conflicts have started over misunderstandings and without clear motivations on either side.  While some differences are irreconcilable, the severity and intensity of conflict can be significantly minimized when there is empathy for the opposition.

Listen First.  Especially if you are on the receiving end of the aggression.  Put your own feelings and desires aside and listen.  Really fucking listen.  Do not interrupt.  Keep eye contact.  Nod your head.  Yea some call it “active listening“, but you damn well know how it feels when someone is really paying attention to you.  Do that.  Put your own thoughts aside, especially if you are a guy and constantly want to jump in and solve the problem. There will be plenty of time for that.

Focus on understanding.  In the “old way” I listened as a delaying tactic, as a rope a dope while I prepared the main offensive attack. Don’t do that.  Stay curious.  Is what you are hearing what you expected from the person during your preparation?  Do you really understand what feelings, needs and desires they have?  Do you really understand what they want out of the situation?  Keep the judgement out.  Even if what you understand they want is totally fucking stupid and useless.  Try to dig down the real basic needs being expressed not the surface needs.  For example if your girlfriend says “I just need you to take out the trash once in a while” the old me would be just like “sure I can do that” end of conversation.   If you focus on understand what is really underneath the requests, you might get to the core issue.  Like “I need to feel loved or appreciated.”  Often times the real needs and motivations are buried under hurt, distrust and layers of daily details.  Focus on understanding the true needs and motivations. Focus on understanding not winning. The “win” is the understanding.

Remain mindful.  This could be the first step, or a step that underlies the entire situation.  Basically stay awake and engaged with listening/understanding. Your monkey mind will want to bust in with your own feelings, needs, wants, desires, solutions.  Your monkey mind will want to tune everything out as it prepares offense.  Stay focused.  There is time for everything the monkey mind wants to do, but your goal here is to stay focused on process not outcome.

Pro Tip:  For the Really BIG conflicts, the ones much further down the existential fear scale, you should employ role-playing.  Talk the situation and your approach through with a friend, mentor or in extreme circumstances, actually role play with them.  Start the expected conversation and play the scene through.  This is what Presidential candidates do for the big debates.  For big conflicts, this investment will pay off.

What often happens to me in armed conflict situations when I deploy the process oriented approach is that the opposition is quickly disarmed and we start working together from a position of empathy on a solution we are both happy with.  In situations where mutual happiness is not possible (firing an employee, breaking up with the girlfriend, collecting the debt), the wounds of the conflict are significantly reduced.  No one limps away mortally wounded.  The opposition may be wounded but they probably still have their dignity.  Over time they may even appreciate the conflict as a turning point.  Today’s looser needs to have the confidence and ability to be tomorrows winner.  The world is not well served by armies of wounded losers zombie walking through life.

Sometimes with all the empathy and understanding of the other’s needs, I still can’t give them what they want.  I can’t keep the employee.  I can’t take out the trash.  But with the understanding and empathy the parties can leave the conflict feeling understood.  Feeling that they were not steamrolled.  Far fewer grudges arise later.  The Process Orientation of conflict resolution still has an outcome.  The negative outcome you fear may still happen.  In many ways there is still a winner and loser.  But there is less damage to both sides.

Well that certainly is much more organized than the three beer advice I gave my buddy, and it was produced with coffee instead, but I am happy with it.  I certainly will admit to having changed my approach to conflict over time and the results are 10x better when the process approach is deployed.  Meditation is the superpower that has given me the ability to pause and choose a strategy.  While sometimes I may still choose the “old way”, I know have an option and the skill to choose.  Those have been steps in the right direction.

DO this: Breath exercises + Cold shower = improved immune response and more GRIT

Image result for cold shower

A couple of years ago I read that taking a cold shower first thing in the morning would be good for me (yea right).  I recently found a fairly lively “cold showers are bullshit” contingency out there, so time for a second look.  Breathing exercises (a mix of hyper ventilation and holding the breath) have also been bantered about among my climbing, surfing and yoga friends for various health benefits.  The major proponent of combining these (with an emphasis on the cold parts) is a crazy Dutchman named Wim Hof.  He has even commercialized his “method” if you have an extra $200 to spare.  There is some third-party validation SCIENCE behind the practice (a necessity for me to try anything).  He recently did an AMA on Reddit which is quite self promotional, but fairly educational.  I found an abbreviated explanation of a morning ritual version of the “method” in the June issue of Outside Magazine.   For the last week I have been doing this every morning.  Here is an explanation of my “modified Hof method” and a first impression.

METHOD:  The Martin Tobias modified Hof method of breathing and cold immersion.

Follow these steps in the morning immediately before picking up a device, having coffee, eating, or training.  Initially do it lying down, with a friend near by who you trust enough to hear you scream like a little girl.

  1.  Lie on the ground/floor (not in your bed).
  2. Inhale deeply but not quickly, pulling in as much air as you can.  When you think your lungs are full, suck in some more.
  3. Exhale fully but not quickly (you may pass out); simply let the breath out.
  4. Repeat in/out for 30 to 40 rounds at whatever pace is comfortable.  If you start to feel light-headed, slow down.
  5. On the last round, exhale and then hold your breath until your body feels the need to breathe.  For me this is about 1-1:30 minutes, your mileage will vary.
  6. Inhale deeply but not quickly, then hold your breath for 10 seconds.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for three or four rounds.  Total of 90-160 breaths.
  8. After your final round, hop in a cold shower.  Put your whole damn body in there, move around. Do not just have the water hit one arm or side of your body.  If the you feel the water warming up after a few seconds, turn it down.  Try to stay in initially for at least 30 seconds (this is where the screaming like a girl comes in), over time try to work up to 3-5 minutes and maybe even use a little soap or shampoo to have something to do.

EVALUATION:

I have done this for seven days now.  The breathing part has been easy and even enjoyable.  I have to remember to slow down or hyperventilation makes me too light-headed (hence the floor).  The cold shower is the hardest part and there has been alot of screaming.  First day I only lasted about 20 seconds.  After seven days I am up to 3 minutes and can get a fairly productive shower done in that time including taking the shower wand down and getting the cold all over.

No noticeable mental or physical benefits, but I didn’t expect to see/feel any.  I have a distinct feeling of accomplishment.  Of beating back the fear.  Every day of practice makes it easier and builds overall confidence.   Total morning time is about 7-8 minutes.  It is actually less total time than my prior long hot lazy showers were.  I think I will stick with it for the next month and re-evaluate.  It adds very little overhead, has proven science upside, and delivers a daily small victory first thing in the morning.  This one is a keeper for now.

As with all tools I write about here, your mileage may vary.  I only pass along the ones I have personally found to be helpful or interesting or carry very little downside with fairly meaningful potential upside.  I encourage your own examination and experimentation.  Your path is your own and you have to take your own steps.  But DO TAKE STEPS.

RESOURCES:

Becoming the Iceman

 

Why I am developing/testing self assessment and analysis tools

Martin Office (10)

As I walked out of the theater at the premier of The Matrix, while everyone else was talking about the game changing special effects and innovative fight scenes, I was obsessed with something else.  The Red Pill and the Blue Pill.   The nagging brain worm that something wasn’t right with the world, there was more underneath if you could just find it. The idea that we are asleep to reality most of our lives and it is possible to wake up and maybe even tap into some superpowers.

For the last three years I have been indulging this brain worm on a deep dive into waking up and becoming aware. Waking up is hard.  Sleep walking through life is so much easier.  I enjoy wandering and bumping into trees and having random experiences along the path, but sometimes I end up stuck in a traffic circle, or endlessly distracted by shiny things.  At that point I need tools, catalysts, doors finders. Lately I have been digging into the science behind finding your path and am uncovering some helpful self assessment (wake up) and intervention (stay awake) tools.  I hope to get a bunch of these into easily digestible forms for broad distribution.  Why?  To improve my own understanding and awareness.  To maybe connect a couple of dots.  Should you take the tests and investigate your own life also?.  Not because I say so, but because you are searching too.

The two central elements of Eudiamonist philosophy are: (1) “know thyself” (inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi) and (2) “choose thyself”, or in the words of Pindar, “become who you are.”  Eudiamonism calls on each person to live in accordance with his/her inner daimon, that is, to strive toward self-realization.  However, before it is possible to make any notable progress toward self-realization, it is necessary to have recognized and decided what type of person one is now.  The ancient Greeks could spend a whole life in this search.  Who has time for that now?  We need updated tools. We need to use technology and the accumulated wisdom of the ages to hack self-discovery.  New tools should speed this process up and then we can get on to the doing and being part of life.  It took me too long, I hope your journey helped with these tools.

I am not a therapist and don’t play one on TV.  I am not an expert in any scientific or academic field.  But I have connected a couple of dots along the way.  These are examination tools and you are the patient and doctor.  They are designed to be short and relatively dense allowing for Hopefully their use raises relevant questions, opens new paths on the journey, increases understanding and awareness.  You are the one that has to take the steps, open the doors, decide on the direction and keep going.  The Red Pill or the Blue Pill.  Your decision.

For me this journey has little to do with today’s self help industry or positive psychology movement. I have had my fill of “you can do it” sloganeering, that is part of the dream world.  I am wholly uninterested in platitudes and empty motivation.  I want to know myself and understand what works and what is real and true. Sometimes the truth is you can’t get what you want. But everyone can examine their wants for authenticity.  I have found that some prior wants were based on screwed up value systems and were inauthentic to my true self so they were put aside.  This journey for me is about finding the red pill and putting aside the dream world.

Over 2,200 years before the Matrix, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”  His “Meditations” were primarily for himself as my musings here are.
Not making a decision is making one.

Ignorance is not an excuse nor is it bliss.

Only you can figure out yourself.

I took the Red Pill.

Get my favorite Life Hacks delivered in email

I hate email lists.  I have funded two different companies to kill SPAM of all sorts.  But lots of people have asked if I would send out an occasional email with my favorite Life Hacks in it.  Originally I thought “Sure, but don’t expect more than a couple a month.”  But I have since decided to not do an email at all so I am removing the ability to subscribe.  I am turning DGC more introspective, a notebook to myself, like Meditations, so outbound publishing to the world is not a priority.  If you want to follow my internal process, subscribe to the blog or follow me on Twitter.

 

A step along the path of life: The new car on your 16th birthday

Along the journey of life there are many paths, many doors, many side trips and some major milestones that mark significant achievement and can change the path/journey in significant ways.  Getting my first car was definitely a defining moment in my life (even though I didn’t appreciate the significance at the time).  Yesterday, with the benefit of 36 years of hindsight, I set my own daughter on the road with her own car.  The experience has caused my monkey mind to go into overdrive, some of which I share here.

Yesterday my daughter Finn turned 16.

2016-05-29 12.34.59 HDR

For the past year she we have been practicing driving, talking about driving, reading books on driving, taking courses on driving, and generally obsessing about the day Finn can drive herself around.  That day came yesterday.  2016-05-29 12.37.50

Getting a drivers license and your own car has got to be a high order American coming of age ritual.  It is a big step up on the road to independence.  It lies on a foundation of trust, learning, responsibility and achievement.  As a parent the decision to provide a car required contemplation (is she ready?) and not an insignificant amount of mourning (no more time together driving around town).   Finn earned the car through hard work and deserves all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.

Martin Tobias at 16 was not ready for his own car.  While I doubt my parents put as much existential angst or contemplation into the issue as i have given the demands of 6 other kids around the house and far less money to go around, looking back, it was a very good thing that the 16 year old Martin Tobias did not get a car.  I was rebellious, irresponsible, boundary pushing, and generally an unhappy kid.  I had already been in the hospital three times from thrill seeking bicycle accidents.  As high school graduation loomed large and all my friends already had their college plans locked down, a stark reality hit me.  If I didn’t get my shit together I would be working in the damn pizza parlor my whole fucking life. I got my shit together.  Just before heading off to college I invested my pizza cook savings into a $300 1972 Ford Galaxie 500.  I loved that car because it was mine.  I was ready for that responsibility.

What does it mean exactly to “being ready for your own car” ?  My criteria include:

  •  A demonstrated history of responsible decisions. (demonstrated self regulation)  Choosing to do the homework instead of hang out with friends.  Saving money instead of spending it all. Ability to eat only one piece of cake.
  •  Significant attention to detail.  Driving is all about attention and pattern recognition.  80% of collisions are caused by driver inattention.  Even without the distractions of music, texting (1 in 4 accidents), et al, can you pay attention to details when necessary?
  • Ability to take on part of the financial and logistical responsibility.  When you spend your own hard earned money (job or allowance) on something you take better care of it, reinforcing responsibility.  Saving for a car was the #1 reason I got a job in high school.
  • An absence of clearly dangerous behavior traits.  If your child has problems with drugs or alcohol or depression or has clear impulse control issues, wait on the car.  You do not “owe them a car” because their friends got one. You owe it to them when they are ready, or when they make themselves ready.

Now I know many parents don’t put this much contemplation into what the car at 16 means in life. Plenty of parents are just happy to get the kids out of their hair and get more of their own time back.  But 16 is two years before most kids head off to college (a top 3 milestone) and definitely the beginning of the end of childhood.  How do we recognize, honor and note that transition in our lives?  With the decline of traditional religious adulthood rituals (Bat Mitzvah, Quinceanera, etc.) how do we do this?  Making a big deal about the car and what it means has served well as a coming of age ritual for generations.  Not everyone does it, but it works well for those that do.

All this stuff was sloshing around in my head as I sat down to feed Harper, my 9 month old.

2016-05-24 18.06.54

Driving day for Harper T-15 years.  Suddenly a horrific thought came to my mind.  Would advancements in transportation technology destroy the first car ritual for Harper’s generation?  How will Uber change individual car ownership in 15 years?  What about self driving cars (my Tesla is already there, but hobbled by software and liability issues)?  If technology could free all that driving time to do other things, would we choose to free up that time?  Coming of age rituals very significantly across the world and have changed over time, but I am not sure I am ready to see this one go.  With regret I predict that Harper will be very unlikely to have a significant coming of age experience around getting her drivers license and first car 15 years from now.  By then she will likely have already been shuttled around town by inexpensive on demand transportation services of all types for many years.  Why waste time driving yourself?

As with many monkey mind sessions, I am not sure there is a solution in here.  Mostly observations.  After having so much swirling around I have found it helpful to name the major feelings that arose around this issue.  The Coming of Age Car Crisis elicited:

  •  Apprehension.  For all the trips without me Finn will take.  With all the increased access to the unknown now, access to the harmful, the hurtful, the danger in life will also increase.  Letting go is very scary.
  • Humble.  By the wonderful person Finn has become, one who is ready for all that comes with a license and a car.
  • Excited.  To see where the road continues to take Finn.  And for my own next chapter without all the driving of her and her friends around.  For where the path goes from here.

Stay tuned for more updates from the path of life and invitations to contemplation.

Some of my favorite teen driver resources:

How to Drive: Real World Instruction and Advice from Hollywood’s Top Driver

Measure and Understand Your Grit

DO This: Practice beating fear and facing the flinch. 

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A couple of months ago my 15-year-old daughter asked me how she can overcome some of her fears.  The “I don’t like to be home alone at night or walk down a dark alley” type.  At the time I was stumped. As a manly man if a buddy had asked that question the obvious answer would be “grow a set you pansy!” Followed by endless shaming until the guy admitted he wasn’t a wuss anymore. As a man I have been shamed out of fear my whole life.

A little birdie (years of therapy) in my hypothalamus sat up and urged me to take a different tack with my daughter.  So I mumbled something about “you only get good at things you practice” and proceed onto google.  Four months, much reading and many trials later I actually have found a few things that are appropriate for exactly the situation I have: a 15-year-old girl with normal age related anxiety  in a few areas and a desire to get a little more gritty and tough.

We tried the first fear buster test at home tonight.  Watch the video of my attempt below.  Hat tip to Julien Smith in The Flinch for this technique that I have added onto.

Directions are simple.  It takes less than two minutes.  Get up right now and go to your cupboard.  Pick out a little used but once loved coffee cup or glass.  Hold it out in your hand at arm’s length, shoulder height.  Now drop the cup!  Yes you heard me drop the damn cup!  Now clean it up.  Sit down and write a list of every feeling that you felt before during and after dropping the cup.  Use a feeling list like this if you have to.  Naming feelings in detail reduces their power over you.  You can just notice them like anything else.  “oh, there is dread.  And his friend fear.  How interesting.”  This exercise takes you through (slight) emotional distress, into analysis and onto (hopefully) some increased awareness and confidence all in less than 10 minutes with very little risk to life or limb.

It took my daughter a couple tries before she could drop the cup.  The flinch made her arm go limp a few times before she pushed it aside. All the training to be careful and don’t break things.  Yet there was her father giving her permission to break stuff and there would not be any consequences.  The monkey mind couldn’t deal. Couldn’t reconcile the conflict.  Multiple disaster scenarios raced through her head. Fear and dread took over. But with my encouragement she pushed through and found out that nothing bad happened.  She stared down the flinch and won.  One step at a time. Keep building and practicing and larger fears will lose their sway.

Like anything else the journey starts with the first step. If you want to get tougher try the cup drop challenge. All you have to lose is a little fear and a cup you don’t use anyway.

Some thoughts on “enough”. 

Read this story about Joseph Heller ( author of catch 22) today on quora.  Fits right in with some other thoughts I have been having about happiness.  

As the new year is upon us and many people are thinking about what they want to do different in the new year than last I have been hearing many things that all basically come back to ” I want more”. Whenever I want more it has always lead to unhappieness. What I am starting to realize is that is not the lack of the thing that causes the sadness (because after getting the thing I have never ever been completely satisfied).   It is the search for more (or less) that is the source of the unhappieness. The key is to accept “enough” and enjoy the now.  

Last year my New Years resolution was to end the year with less stuff than I started. I was on a paring down kick.  I completely failed.  Oh sure I went though the garage and drove two trucks of stuff to the st Vincent de Paul and a load to the dump.  But I also bought a bunch of new stuff all of which seemed absolutely necessary at the time despite my best overall intentions.  One area of explosion was kids stuff.  How does that stuff seem to multiply at 10x the rate of anything else in the house?  

Have not figured out New Years resolutions incorporating these new learnings yet. But stay tuned.  

The Book agrees 

I have been contemplating much of my life on the fact that truth can only be found when you know the opposite.  You can’t understand white without seeing black.  What is left without right?  What is true without a lie?  Pleasure without pain is meaningless.  So many things can only be truly understood when you also understand their opposite. 

This morning I am re reading The Book from Alan watts.  He says  


Maybe that is where that brain work came from.  However long ago I read it I have found it to be true all my life so far.