When in conflict we commonly turn our negative energy on the other person in various ways. Examples may be by gossiping about her or him, blaming, name-calling, and generally saying counterproductive and mean-spirited things to and about her or him. The irony of the expression, “When you throw dirt, you lose ground” (credited as a Texan proverb) is not lost on those of us aiming to become more conflict masterful.
Throwing dirt of the nature described above, even if it feels good in the moment, can easily backfire in unanticipated ways. For instance, people who we complain to may not provide support and find our own actions in the dispute or the fact that we are bad-mouthing the other person to be unacceptable. They may lose respect for us, consider us petty, and voice their objections. Some of these reactions may lead to conflict between us too.
Another way that throwing dirt backfires is the fact that there is nothing to be gained by those behaviours. At least, there is nothing I know of that leads to a favorable result – if that is what is intended. Examples may be that the other person no longer engages with us or reacts in a way that is any more productive than our actions and words are. In the end, ground is lost in these ways and more.
If you tend to throw dirt, this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) will be relevant to you:
Considering a specific conflict incident, what did you say or do that constituted throwing dirt?
For what reasons did you throw dirt?
What emotions motivated you to do so?
How did you lose ground in the conflict by doing so?
How else did doing so backfire in that situation that you didn’t answer in the previous question?
In what ways did you gain ground?
What would you say is the opposite of throwing dirt?
Instead of throwing dirt, what could you have done that may have yielded an outcome you prefer in that situation?
What do you want the ground to be and feel like when you are in a conflict?
What would it take for you to make the ground be and feel like that (answer to the previous point)?
Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You.