Communication Managing Self Problem solving

Is a conflict grinding you down?

Written by Julia Menard

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” When I wrote Hold On To Yourself – with co-author Judy Zehr, one concept we wanted to share was the idea of using metaphors to change our thinking about conflict.

Here’s a quick mind shift tool for you to experience what I mean!

Think of your conflict. Get it in your mind firmly. The players. The feelings that arise. Your sense of hopelessness. Your sense of helplessness. It might take a minute to connect with a sense of contraction that often accompanies conflict, but see if you can feel into it.

You there?

Now ask yourself: What metaphor do I have for this conflict? What image would I use to describe this conflict? Is it like a war? Like the plague? Like a windstorm tearing up everything in sight?

What picture comes to mind for you? As you think of a present-day conflict, what is that conflict like? Your conflict is like a….

Got it?

That picture reflects your present thinking. Let’s get that mind shift happening now!

So, what if conflict wasn’t like a dark blob of negative energy – but more like a dance or like kayaking down rapids or like a rainbow! We are playing with shifting conflict from being something like “The Scream” to something like “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”

Get a lighter picture in your mind. A dance. A river-rafting adventure. A beautiful painting. It doesn’t need to be the “right” picture. Just allow yourself to think of a beautiful picture. Something that perhaps brings you a bit of joy.

Got it?

Now go back to thinking about your original conflict. What if this conflict, your conflict that is presently bringing you down, was like that more positive picture?

How does that change your thinking about your conflict?

When I asked a friend of mine what image first comes to mind, she said an erupting volcano. Hot and furious! Then, she chose another image: being on the beach. For the first few seconds, she couldn’t think of how her damaging conflict could be like a beach.

Then she got it! She saw the conflict itself like the ocean, and she and the other person she was in conflict with reposing together, side by side, looking at that conflict.

That mind shift, for her, brought her a sense of relaxing and a sense of perspective to the conflict. Most importantly, she shifted the problem from being dangerous and overwhelming (hot lava) to the problem residing “out there” – not engulfing her and not being the other person either. The image of two people side by side at the beach also allowed her to see herself joined with this other person in the common pursuit of solving the conflict.

By changing her metaphor, she had access to more knowledge and insight from the new image to help her in her present situation.

Powerful stuff!

I’d love to hear how your change in metaphors changes your thinking!

“Metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter about six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent.” … James Geary

About the author

Julia Menard

Have you ever wondered why you can be so calm and rational for your clients, but when it comes to your own life, stress can creep in so easily? That’s the quest I set out on when, after 20 years as a mediator, my own marriage disintegrated. I teamed up with a therapist from Portland, and we wrote a book that captures much of what I’ve learned over the last five years about finding a the calm in the chaos. Hold On To Yourself: How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations is the result. If you are interested in mindfulness, finding the leader within and engaging the gifts in conflict, then check out my website and sign up for my free monthly newsletter at:

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