Nigel Singer

Changing my mind about conflict My last post finished with the suggestion that we should change our mind about conflict and I want to start to explore what this means.

‘Changing my mind’ is a phrase I have stolen from my partner, who wanted to reclaim it from its usual negative connotation and meaning and instead, use it as a way of making a deliberate and positive choice.

So, what I am suggesting is that when we are in conflict and viewing it as ‘bad’, it may help us if we can change our mind and see it in a different light.

Let me take a couple of examples to explore......

You are a parent and your young child is having a tantrum in the middle of a supermarket.

There are many possible reactions and the one I saw today was the parent starting to shout at the child who then got even louder and more distressed.

Changing your mind in this situation is tough because you may be grappling with a sense of embarrassment, feeling very visible and perhaps being judged as a ‘bad’ parent.  The parent will also be running into a bunch of ‘rules’ that exist inside them about how they are meant to behave.  These are the rules that we all have - the ones that define our sense of what is normal.  The issue with these rules is that we often don’t know we have them until they get broken.

To change your mind, you may need to take a breath and internally go ‘my child is upset about something, I wonder what it is?’

This might enable you to stay relaxed and find a way of interacting with your child other than just shouting.  The process of changing your mind is about being able to look at the same situation in a new manner – it requires an effort.

Your boss...

A different example might be that your boss at work, who you usually get on well with, has been abrupt, short and a bit aggressive with you for the last week. You are confused, upset and hurt, you may have started to use the word bullying about their behaviour. Your relationship with them is professional, so you don’t know much about the person aside from how you see them at work.

It will be easy to drop into a very negative place about this type of conflict.  If you are not very assertive you may stay quiet – suffer in silence – and hope it stops.  If it does than that’s great because things get back to normal and you don’t have to worry about it – or do you, might you be a bit more vigilant for this type of behaviour from your boss?

What happens if the behaviour continues?  You may be able to deal with it but it might build up to an outburst from you back at your manager or that you head off to HR and put in a complaint.

So where does changing your mind fit in this picture?

It can kick in at any point but the easiest is when you start to notice the different and uncomfortable behaviour from your boss.

Rather than feeling like the victim of this behaviour – if you can change your mind you create an opportunity to say to yourself ‘something is going on here and I don’t understand what it is’. 

Perhaps you can approach them directly, ‘You seem to be behaving differently over the last few days, are things okay?’

Or ‘I’m noticing your seem a bit distracted, can I help?’ 

The difficulty with these types of approach is that you need a degree of confidence and assertion to be so direct.

If it is difficult for you to be this assertive it may be that you can take a step back from your reaction to their behaviour and start to wonder about what is causing them to behave this way. 

This process may not change their behaviour but it can start to change your reaction to their behaviour.

You don’t have to be a victim, you may be able to become an observer and this might give you some space to think what you want to do.

My key thought is, no matter what the circumstance, can I look differently at this situation? 

Can I (or am I prepared to) make the effort to change my mind?

What is it that I need to do if I want to change my mind?

 Nigel Singer

I want to start writing about conflict, which for many of us is something that is viewed negatively. What is your relationship to conflict, how do you use the word and how does this inform your relationship to the way you deal with it?

Conflict comes in many forms, internal ones (where we are ‘fighting’ ourselves), external ones (where we are ‘fighting’ another person) and societal ones (where we are ‘fighting’ the group or the state).Our primary route into learning about conflict is through the family or adults that we grow up with, the ways in which they behave, the things they do and also the things they don’t do.

Some of us grow up with loud arguments being normal and being safe – where everyone knows it’s okay to express feelings and that being loud is just how we speak when we have something we want to say that we feel strongly about.

Other people will have been in families where loud means dangerous and should be kept away from at all costs.

Many of us will be familiar with conflict being something that is always seen as negative and we will have developed strong avoidance patterns.

Spoken and unspoken emotions will have a large formative effect upon us.

Some of our recollections of childhood will be positive others very negative, these early experiences will have shaped our understanding and our patterns of behaviour around conflict.

Whenever I ask a group to do a word association exercise on the word conflict, the outcome is nearly always negative.  Most of us don’t say things like ‘I’m really looking forward to going to work today; I’ve got some really juicy conflicts to deal with’.  We are much more likely to be thinking in terms of who to blame, getting rid of them or just avoiding the issue at all cost.

I want to introduce the possibility that conflict is creative, dynamic and promotes change.

Conflict is a given, it is going to happen whether we want it to or not, so if we manage to relax into accepting it, we can start to build a more fruitful relationship to it.

As conflict is inevitable, the part I have control over is how I relate to it, so can I take responsibility for this?

Can I change my mind about conflict?


Posted: Category: Reflections

 Nigel Singer

Sometimes there is a simple way through my personal debris and often it is remembering to take a breath. 

Do it now, take one, a clear breath, paying attention to the air entering your body and leaving it again. 

What do you notice, where is your focus and centre?  Are you at ease or are you caught on some treadmill of behaviour – just reactions with no space for a response.

This is not about mastery; it is about living here and now in the best manner that you are able.

Perhaps you need to take three or four breaths.  Allow yourself the time to do this – everything else can wait, the external world is unlikely to disappear and sometimes breathing supports a change in focus.

Each time you open your eyes can you see the world anew.  Can you look with wonder, gratitude and compassion, no matter what is happening?

In the darkest moments can you find this place?  What happens if you have no idea of this place, if every moment is a tortured and painful one, with no sign of relief or a change of view?

I want to believe that it is possible for every human to experience a moment of grace – to know what ease is.  However fleeting a glimpse, it may be enough to support the possibility of change.


Stepping onto the mat

Posted: Category: Reflections

 Nigel Singer

Sitting in Blagdon with my old and dear friend Renee who has successfully pushed me into action - hence this first entry. I'm hoping to use this as a way of thinking about life, conflict, work, relationships - in fact, everything.

Do you carry a sense of being ‘present?’

Do you own your space? 

Are you able to comfortably share your space with others?

Do you think about how to take responsibility for who you are and how you behave?

Do you ‘show up’?

In his essay ‘On getting a black belt aged 52’, George Leonard talks about the practice that his Aikido teacher requested of him prior to his first black belt grading.

He had been working diligently at techniques and throws and the various elements that need to be in place before taking a grading at this level.   He had identified the areas that needed more practice and was focussing on these.

Surprisingly, his teacher, Robert Nadeau, asked him to practice getting onto the mat. 

In aikido there is a clear ritual attached to this, you turn your back to the mat, slip your sandals off, step backward onto the mat, turn, kneel and then perform a bow.  By the time you take a black belt grading you have spent a lot of time getting on and off mats, even if you can bring awareness to it, there is still  likely to be an element of habitual behaviour  in the process.  What his teacher was asking was that he changed his mind when performing this act; that when stepping onto the mat he saw it as ‘his’ mat and a place to which he could also welcome and invite others.

Nadeau was asking for a change in air, he was requesting a shift in attitude – a way of ownership, compassion and preparedness.

The dojo – the place where we practice aikido – is a defined space; it is treated with respect and there are rituals alongside spoken and unspoken codes of behaviour whilst within it.  The rituals and the codes create a sense of separateness from daily life, a degree of safety, an atmosphere that encourages thoughtfulness and engagement with the practice.  It supports the letting go of what has been happening to you up until this point in your day and stepping into the possibility of new learning and development.

The dojo is no different from any other aspect of our lives, there are defined spaces where we do specific things and those spaces will have their own spoken and unspoken codes, some defined by us, others by our society.

Do we fall into bed when we are tired or can we lie down with an awareness of transition from one place to the next?  When we walk into our place of work, do we ‘step onto the mat’ or do we just shamble into the office or the building site, when we get into  our car or onto our bike, when we step into a friend’s house or walk through the door of our own home, do we notice what we are doing?

I am stepping onto my blogging mat right now and what I hope to do is offer thoughts and ideas that continue to develop this theme.