Managing Self Neuroscience Problem solving

Walking out conflict

Written by Julia Menard

When we are in conflict, our cortisol levels rise and all manner of dumbing down occurs in our brains. Stressed brains simply do not learn the same way. Conflict is not an intelligence and health enhancer.

One new revelation in neuroscience is how much exercise positively impacts our brain. Much research has shown this correlation in the past, but a new survey of scientific research published between 1990 and 2012 establishes a positive link between academic success and physical activity. Activity increases blood-flow to the brain, creating new neurons in the hippocampus that enhance attention span, memory, and creative-thinking skills.

Charles Hillman is leading the way for research on physical activity and learning. Here’s a picture from one of his studies which shows visually the difference even just 20 minutes of walking makes to our brains.

If all this is true, is this an implication for how we approach conflict? Of course it is!

When I’m engaged in helping people work through their disputes, I can tell when the energy is flagging in the room. Most of us can tell, but probably because I taught aeorbics for 10 years, I’m not afraid to point it out.

I may even suggest breaks more than most folks might think is necessary. The research on the importance of moving our bodies is key. If conflict makes us less capable and erodes our ability to think well, then moving our bodies builds up our capacity to think well and to come from a resourced state.

So, the next time you find the temperature heating up in your conversations, take a break! Even better, take a walk! Better still, break out a sweat. And for extra points, walk with your opponent. Don’t talk “shop” – just walk, connect, relax.

I guarantee you that you will re-enter the discussions more resourced. And your outcomes will be better, too.

“The way exercise changes our brains is more effective than wine, medicines, and doughnuts.”
… John Ratey, author of Spark

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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