Psychology, neuroscience and mind-body health have been steadily offering fresh insights to the field of conflict resolution. We have gained skills from attitudinal awareness and staying focused on positive agendas. The knowledge of neural wiring and firing and the role of such elements as mirror neurons help us understand how people get into ruts, how they can get out of them and the central role of empathy in deeper communication. We have learned what triggers the amygdala’s fight or flight reactivity. We have also learned about the biochemistry of fear and hostility and how to build the opposite by creating environments where limbic resonance is possible.
But how we process energy in stressful, charged or conflicted situations remains largely ignored.
Each of us has a predominant energy management style which usually surfaces early in life. Learning to recognize our own style allows us to make conscious choices and develop strategies for skills enhancement. Equally, becoming adept at observing other people’s styles is key to devising a successful conflict resolution strategy. While one style tends to predominate we can switch or moderate styles depending on the context.
Let’s look at some energy management styles:
The Energy Blocker
As the name suggests "The Blocker" is masterful at keeping out any energy that may seem threatening. The object of the game from this perspective is defence at all costs: no one gets access to one’s emotional field because being vulnerable makes one feel weak and no one gets access to what we really think because we can be defeated by cleverer minds. To make sure no one outwits us or gets through our protective armour, we use a wide variety of tactics to block ideas or feelings.
This is energy that can be either obvious or very subtle, that pretends to ignore or feign ignorance; that claims not to comprehend even the obvious; that does not have time to deal with what has been put in front of it; that comes up with irrelevant solutions; that demands impossible conditions, or asks for more time to study. Blockers can be extremely covert in manipulating conflict or so subtle about avoidance that they delude themselves into thinking they are not resorting to blocking strategies but actually being virtuously circumspect. Blockers survive by being passive aggressive.
The Energy Bouncer
Like the defensive strategy of the person who blocks any energy perceived to be threatening, "The Bouncer" keeps anything from entering their fortress of defenses. The difference between them is that while "The Blocker" is passive aggressive, "The Bouncer" uses mainly overt dominance and aggression strategies. The object of the game is to flatten, intimidate or silence the other. Naturally this tends to be a blunt style resorting to primal and instinctive behaviors such as loud tones, invasion of personal space, challenging the other’s credibility and motivation or falling back on hierarchy and authority. "The Bouncer" can also take the form of cynical needling, moral or intellectual superiority and disdain. There is a lot of hot air, right versus wrong, name calling and accusation in this energy management profile.
The Energy Sponge
Instead of putting up impenetrable defenses like "Blockers" and "Bouncers", "The Sponge" is open to almost any kind of energy, allowing possible blame or tangential responsibility to take up residence. "The Sponge" often falls victim to taking on too much, and lacks the self-protective boundaries that protect others from being exploited or victimised. In fact, the victim narrative can predominate with this style. At its most extreme, there is an emotionally saturated perspective that dramatises hurt, impotence and fatalism.
The Energy Zapper
"The Energy Zapper" is always trying to soften the blow. The name of the game here is “Let’s try to make things as painless as possible. In fact, let’s sweeten it up and just avoid conflict.” Pain avoidance leads to elaborate distraction routines, fictional solutions or bald fantasy scenarios. Energy zapping can take many forms, but often "The Energy Zapper" will conceal their volatile energy by appearing nice and agreeable.
A healthy energy management style
So what is a healthy energy management style? What approach can we cultivate to facilitate conflict resolution?
The Energy Transformer
"The Energy Transformer" actively engages with the current self before trying to change it. This requires the avoidance of both passivity and aggression. Being direct may feel aggressive to some, but if displayed in an atmosphere of encouraged reciprocity, it will create a dynamic context for truthful exchange. The truth can be painful and pain cannot be avoided. Raw emotion is seen as energy which must be given permission to breathe if it is to be transformed into constructive energy or directed towards reconciliation. If raw energy- as raw emotion- is unwanted, the resolution process will falter. Setting the context for growth is the organising principle of this energy management approach; anything that subverts self-development is seen as compromising good process.
Accepting that we cannot grow without emotional vulnerability is essential but this does not mean simply opening up wounds or permitting hostile behaviour. Energy transformers have a keen sense of the emotionally difficult environments that can cause wounds to open and lead to re-traumatising people. This sense arises from mature relational capacities that are both empathic and non-judgmental.
Healing is not ritualised as a tactic to get to desired outcomes; it is given full allowance to head where it wants to go. As cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien notes:
Healing does not occur in the fast laneLet’s face it, if we are not growing, some significant part of us is being stifled or deadened. Energy transformation makes a commitment best reflected in the adage:
Let the bitter be bitter and the sweet be sweet. Until the bitter and the sweet are one.” Only then can we experience the energy of wholeness. And that is an energetic state of being worth having as a goal.