Conflict and Ego: The monster inside us all


Very few people relish it. 

It’s one of the most common areas that we get asked to consult on with clients.

We use lots of helpful behavioural theory, practical techniques and role-play various scenarios.

However, nothing can quite replicate the real life challenge of a conflict with a particularly stubborn individual, whether a colleague or client, when emotions are running high and adrenaline is flowing through.

How do you manage in practice?

It’s not easy. So give yourself a break for finding it hard.

Transactional Analysis: A Brief Summary.

Eric Berne’s theory on “Transactional Analysis” is extremely helpful in enhancing our self-awareness during conflict. The theory posits that all of us have the capacity to think, feel and act from 3 ego states. Parent, Adult, Child.

  • The “Parent” state: behaviours, thoughts or feelings copied from parents or authoritative figures.
  • The “Adult” state: behaviours thoughts and feelings that are direct responses to the here and now.
  • The “Child” state: behaviours, thoughts and feelings replayed from childhood.

Whereas both the Parent and Child ego states are reactive and fueled by emotion, the “Adult” ego state is more measured – rational, present and objective.

A helpful development.

I’ve developed my own interpretation of what happens during conflict based on my experience, my own habits and being very self-analytical- as I tend to be! I hope that you find it helpful.

The emotions that conflict evokes can be strong and are not easy to detach from. But you must.

We all have defaults. It can be helpful to work out your triggers, and what emotional ego state you’re most easily consumed by. Berne’s “Parent” or “Child?” Perhaps, you’ll oscillate between the two. Remember, these behaviours are deeply stored in the emotional memory.

A start:

When you feel that anxiety, stress, anger, whatever it is, rising, breathe. Take some space and step outside of yourself to observe. I liken it to an outer body experience. This time and space are such gifts under pressure.

Though it may not feel like this, you are not your emotions- however all-encompassing they may seem at the time.

Don’t give in to the temptation to feed your greedy ego.

“But I’m right! This person’s an absolute idiot and they need to know it.” Do they? Not really. This is your ego talking.

“I’m an idiot! I’m way out of my depth! I hate this. Ugh! I’m just gonna avoid it all.” No you’re not, and don’t do that. And again. It’s your ego.

The short term satisfaction of winning or ducking out completely will give way to long term regret. Your ego doesn’t care about the other person. It doesn’t actually care too much about you. See, it’s very selfish.

The “Ego Monster”

The ego is like the monster inside of us all. If we feed it, it can take over, and the results can be catastrophic. The monster is erratic, highly emotionally charged and doesn’t consider the consequences. It can also be a bit of a saboteur.

Oh it will try to befriend you and it can be incredibly convincing. Careful.

Depending on your character (you’ll know yourself best) your monster will more frequently exhibit of two types of behaviours- very much incorporated within Berne’s “Parent” and “Child” states. Both are pretty self-destructive. Perhaps these will resonate with you:

1. “Lost Little Child”– nervous, scared, anxious, inferior, evasive, obedient, submissive, not taking responsibility.

2. “False Mesiah”– certain that you’re right, indignation, pride, anger, a desire to belittle, mock, get the better of, point score or win at all costs.

The ego is part of you. But it’s not all of you. It’s best to acknowledge its feelings, understand them and work through them. 

It’s a strange phenomenon mediating the emotions of your ego as if you are separate from them. In the context of conflict, it’s particularly helpful.

If you take this time to detach from the Ego Monster, understand and quell the surge of emotion, you take control.

Stepping outside of yourself:

A massive tip here, for this detaching process is to put yourself in the shoes of your “adversary.” Truly step outside of yourself and use all of your energy to see things from their perspective. This will further distance you from the Ego Monster. 

The ability to at least understand this perspective, even if you don’t agree, is one of the most powerful tools in managing conflict. This empathy starves your Ego Monster, allowing you to operate from a measured, objective, rational state. This state acknowledges your emotions, but is not driven by them.

This is what Eric Berne calls this the “Adult Ego State.” It takes practice to strengthen this state under pressure. It’s less instinctive.

The state is informed by your emotions, as well as the emotions of the other person. But it’s not driven by them. Put simply, it’s the best you.

Being “The Best You” and operating from that “Adult” state will always feel better and yield better outcomes for everyone than allowing the “Ego Monster” to take over- whether your monster is customarily a “Lost Little Child,” a “False Mesiah,” or a smattering of both. 

There’s no getting away from it, “The Best You” is sometimes hard to grasp in the midst of a hefty conflict. Check back tomorrow for some outstanding tips for strengthening that “Adult” ego state.

By Chris Wickenden, 21st November 2019.

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