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Filling Up The Soap Dispenser Of Harmony

by Lorraine Segal
August 2010

From Lorraine Segal's Conflict Remedy Blog

Lorraine Segal

As I frequently tell my coaching clients and students, it is far easier to resolve or avoid conflict if we look at our own contribution to the situation. We really can’t control another person, no matter how much we want to, but it is possible to change our own attitude and behavior, which often improves our dynamic with the other person.

A problem I had at my new sublet office is a wonderful illustration of this. My clients and I get to use the general waiting room. Since I’m chemically sensitive, I arranged to provide fragrance-free natural soap for the waiting room bathroom and take responsibility for refilling the dispenser.

When I came in on Tuesday last week, the soap level looked higher than I remembered. I took a cautious sniff and discovered someone had filled my pristine soap container with highly scented artificial soap. I was outraged. Didn’t we have an agreement? Hadn’t I done my part? I wanted to add this as new fuel to the fire of other (perceived) slights there. I did my best to write a reasonable e-mail to the director, though I’m sure a whiff of self righteous accusation crept in.

When I got home that night, almost vibrating with indignation, I told my spouse about what had happened. She was very sympathetic. But she also commented, “You know, if you keep the soap dispenser filled up all the time, no one will try to refill it.”

Her remark made me stop and think. If I quietly and routinely made sure the soap dispenser was always topped off, there would be no opportunity for any of them to forget our agreement, or for me to build up resentment.

So, I have made a vow of “fulfillment” to myself and to the soap dispenser. I am willing to release my judgments and expectations and simply do the next right thing.

In any conflict, instead of hanging on to principles of right and wrong, we can ask ourselves,”Is there the equivalent of a soap dispenser we can fill? Can we take some small action to heal the cause of the conflict and restore harmony?”

By the way, as I was saving my first draft of this post, I got an apologetic e-mail from the director, letting me know she put a label on a new soap dispenser instructing people to only fill it with the unscented soap. She may have taken this action anyway after my e-mail, but I like to think the universe shifted just a smidgeon when I changed my thinking. My clients and I often experience small miracles like this when we bring a spirit of forgiveness and creative problem solving to our disputes.


Lorraine Segal is a certified Conflict Management coach and teacher, specializing in communication and conflict resolution in the workplace. For many years a middle manager and tenured community college professor, she has her own business, Conflict Remedy LLC.

In her organizational consulting, classes, and coaching, she helps people learn new skills, get “unstuck” from negative stories, and shift their patterns of thinking and reacting so they can learn to: communicate clearly, resolve conflict effectively, and contribute to a more harmonious and productive workplace.

She currently teaches at Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, and St. Joseph Health Life Learning Center (Memorial Hospital) and works with various businesses and organizations. 

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