Conflict Case Example: the Unnecessary Win/Lose

Samson in the Treadmill, by Carl Bloch, Danish...
Samson in the Treadmill, by Carl Bloch, Danish painter, d. 1890. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Context: Conflict can do a lot of things: create strife, exacerbate illness, inspire creativity and innovation, resolve problems – we see it as a single issue best avoided, but in truth, there is GOOD conflict, BAD conflict, and UNNECESSARY conflict. What I write about today is an example of UNNECESSARY conflict. A lot of people have commented on my hypersensitivity to these things – and yes, this is true, but it’s not entirely due to my recovery from various life and family traumas. Half of my degree was in speech communications, which is essentially all the tools of behavioral psychology with none of the treatment protocols. My focus was mainly on intercultural communication – at which I have demonstrated my skill more than once – and on conflict management (note NOT conflict resolution.) Incidents like today’s interest me from an academic level as much, sometimes more, than they do at a personal level.

The downtown YWCA has six treadmills. It also has a 30 minutes of use only policy – although a lot of people go over, especially on Fridays when fewer people use the gym. I begrudge no one their extra time – I go later on Fridays explicitly to sneak in a little extra cardio.

Two women arrived ahead of me clearly ready to exercise together. There were no treadmills open right next  to each other, but it appeared that two people were nearing the end of their workout. When the women did not get on the open machine but continued to chat, I was confused, so I simply asked them which machines they were waiting for. At that moment, a woman two machines over from the one I had initially signed up for stopped her treadmill and cleared it. So I scribbled my name down on that machine signup sheet, and moved my name off the one I had signed up, giving the two girls a way to work out next to each other.

I called over to the woman, “I’ll wipe your machine down for you!”

The woman ignored me, walked over, looked at the chart, got the stuff to wipe down her machine and came back. “Actually,” she said with a glare and very aggressive body language, “I have the machine for fifteen more minutes.”

She said this with the wipe down stuff in her hands.

This of course sent a confusing message to me. She was WIPING DOWN THE MACHINE, thus indicating she had COMPLETED her workout. But her words were an aggressive “still in use.”

I just looked at her and said, “I just wanted to let you know you didn’t have to, I didn’t mind doing it.”

She glared, wiped down the machine, and trotted off.

There are a few elements of this that are interesting:

1. Her physical actions/body language said the OPPOSITE of her words. She was telling me with words the machine was STILL RESERVED but with actions THAT SHE WAS FINISHED.

2. There were several points in that interaction where she could have said “I’m still using the machine.” If she had said that before getting off the machine, or even as she got off of it, I would have, per gym protocol, chosen a different machine or waited until she was finished.

3. After prompting the girls to stop chatting and get on their machines, it actually made it more visibly clear that there WERE other machines open that I could have easily used. If she had simply chosen to tell me that she wasn’t finished, I could easily have chosen a different machine – in fact, by simple non aggressive assertiveness on her part, we BOTH could have been winners in the interaction. Instead she chose aggressive passivity combined with conflicting words/behavior and created a situation where she LOST and I WON.

And it was completely unnecessary.

The aggression on her part is of course the really mystifying part to me. Aggression out of the blue at least in Minnesota usually means someone has a)imagined something about the target of their aggression and is taking that imagining as fact or b)that person has done something unknown, and rather than resolve the primary conflict, the person is passively choosing other ways to increase conflict – it’s an addiction behavior, and there are a lot of anger junkies out here. I’ve always thought I was one myself, but a few situations where I’ve been as angry as I could get and still able to control both my body and my mouth have proven to me otherwise.


The Magical Part

On a magical level (atheists, I’ve decided to quit apologizing to you when I say these things. I don’t owe you one, and you damn well know you’re going to get this when you’re here) there was a kickback, where I tripped getting off the treadmill when normally I’m pretty controlled if not necessarily graceful. I have an elephant’s body in many ways, and that necessitates a deep awareness of where foot and hand and elbow goes at all times. So she left a pocket of negative energy for me. Uncharacteristic klutziness is always a sign of that sort of thing (spilled drinks = characteristic klutz) so I need to come up with a method for addressing that stuff. I’m really tired of people taking aggressions out on me; I already dealt with 30 years of that stuff, it’s time for people to buy a damn pillow to punch.


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