I just returned from a FANTASTIC winter trip to Fairbanks, Alaska with two of my good friends. We adventured through Alaska at its wintry best: dogsledding, hiking, snowmobiling, and yes, even dogsledding. I couldn’t help but learn a few life lessons along the way, and will share my insights from the Arctic with you.
Today’s lesson: How to survive a conflict.
The Alaskan winters are scenically beautiful, but also cold and unforgiving. Thus, Alaskan wildlife have developed four different strategies for surviving the winter. It struck me that we humans also adopt these four strategies during times of stress or conflict.
The bird. Retreat! Fly far, far away from the conflict.
The bear. Sleep it off. Hibernate. Let the conflict resolve itself.
The mole. Go on the defense. Build a fortress. Construct a good set of tunnels to protect yourself.
The moose. Bring it on! Charge head-first into the conflict. You can take it. Ja-zam!
Which one do you typically choose? I know that I have chosen to be all four at different times. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, and so the key is to know what is the best approach for a given situaion.
For example, I used to have a colleague with whom I didn’t get along well. She was a good person, but we had different personalities and values, and her comments would sometimes grate on my nerves just like I am sure that mine did on hers. Can you relate?
My first thought was to be a bear and leave it be, figuring that I should accept her for who she is and appreciate her on her own terms. This approach had worked well for me in the past with other colleagues, but with this particular colleague there were some pressing issues that needed action, and so I decided that the bear wasn't the best option.
Next, I considered being a bird and having her work with someone else on the project. This approach had worked well with colleagues in the past because it allowed me to match together people with more complementary skills and approaches. But in this case, there was no one to take my place on the project, so I ruled the bird out.
Then I thought about the mole. I could work around her and do the project myself. But I didn't have enough time to do the whole thing alone, so the mole was out.
Finally, I became a moose and took action. I had conversations with her about our relationship, and worked with her to figure out how we could work together. Those conversations were a bit scary and I wasn’t sure how they would work out, but I charged forward anyway. In the end, the moose strategy worked well, and we developed a good working relationship and friendship to boot.
The moose may not always be the best approach, however. Each of the four survival strategies can be advantageous in different situations. For example, sometimes when your significant other is having a bad day, your best option may be to hibernate while he/she sorts it out. Or when faced with a toxic relationship that is not worth fixing, your best strategy may be to fly far, far away instead.
What strategy are you adopting in your current conflict? Is it working for you? If not, which strategy might work better?