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Fundamentals Win Fights

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

If you ever study a martial art that includes real competition or sparring, like boxing and jujitsu, you’ll learn one thing very quickly. Fundamentals win fights – in the dojo and at work.

Basic footwork. Breathing. Using your core and legs to put power into your punches and movements. Even learning how to duck takes practice.

Like Daniel painting the fence and waxing the car in the Karate Kid, the things that really matter are small and must be practiced over and over again. Eventually, with enough repetition and expert guidance, the behaviors become instinctual. Then you have a foundation on which to build strategy and a real fight-plan.

Relational conflict has its own set of foundational skills. You’re unlikely to learn them by accident. Naming and practicing these skills deliberately is the whole idea behind Leading Conflict.

Many years ago, I was visiting another organization that also trains leaders in working with conflict. Their experts were well-published and recognized leaders in the field (and deservedly so). However, during my visit a real interpersonal conflict boiled over in their own organization.

To my great surprise, when these conflict experts were faced with a real-life situation they hadn’t planned for – they froze.

The somewhat simple conflict was drawn out and needlessly intensified. These leaders and mentors did all things they train others not to do. They attempted to avoid the main issues. When that didn’t work, they tried to minimize the problem and the feelings others. When that failed, the leadership began to fragment, attack, and blame one another.

This really isn’t surprising. The fact was, the leaders in this organization had tremendous head-knowledge about conflict. They taught others all the time.

However, they didn’t habitually practice the fundamentals in their own work-lives and relationships. So, they could not perform under pressure outside of the controlled environment of a training example or classroom case-study.

To build on the analogy, just because someone knows how to throw a punch, duck and shuffle their feet, doesn’t mean they know how to box. A real fighter knows how to do all of those fundamentals simultaneously, instinctually, and on demand.

For instance, a deep understanding of the neurology of trauma and conflict can be an incredibly important area of knowledge. Understanding how to craft a quality feedback statement is another important skill. The list goes on. However, if you tend to panic and hyperventilate when faced with an angry co-worker you need something more than a depth of scientific understanding or a “toolbox” full of useful individual practices.

The reality is that under intense psychological pressure in any endeavor, you’re only going to remember how to do a few simple things. These will only be the things that you have practiced so many times, that you can perform them instinctually.

Under stress, as the Greek poet Archilochus said, "We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."

These simple relational fundamentals are what we’ll cover during the event, Leading Conflict: How to Fight at Work (Round 1).

This first round will help you to overcome the fear of engagement so that you can act under pressure – not freeze. I’ll also suggest a small set of simple behavioral and leadership fundamentals that you can then practice on your own.

You learn how to play the piano by playing the piano. You learn how to play football by playing football. You learn how to box by actually boxing. And you can only learn how to lead conflict by actually leading it – not by avoiding, suppressing, or just reading about it.

If you're ready lace up your gloves and start practicing the fundamentals, I’ll be right there with you and cheering you on. Hope I see you at the event.

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