The rhino and the porcupine: Dealing with conflict

Aristotle said:

Anybody can become angry – that is easy. To be angry with the right person and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

How do you manage conflict?

I agree that it is hard to manage your anger wisely, but firmly believe that anybody can learn to get better handles on their anger. Broadly put, people are often comfortable with the role of rhinoceros or porcupine during conflict. To illustrate I made up an example:

Rhinoceros: I can’t believe you made us late again! (Slams the car door)

Porcupine: I wanted to make sure the house is ready when your mother comes to visit...

Rhinoceros: Could you not have done it earlier? (Interrupts, exasperated)

Porcupine: (Rolls eyes. Sighs)

Rhinoceros: You know how important it is to me! Why are you so inconsiderate!?

Porcupine: (Looks out the car window, clenches fists)

Rhinoceros: What, now you are not talking to me?

Porcupine: (Becomes tearful)

Rhinoceros or porcupine

The rhinoceros is typically loud and confrontational when angry, while the porcupine withdraws and sends out hurtful barbs. While it is pretty obvious that rhinos can be hurtful during conflict, porcupines often fail to recognize their contribution to the escalating conflict. Porcupines may believe that their noble silence places them on a moral high ground, but Shannon Alder puts it so well:

“Be leery of silence. It doesn’t mean you won the argument. Often, people are just busy reloading their guns.”

Assertive middle ground
Slippery slope of conflict

But there is a wise intermediary between aggressive and passive behaviour: Assertiveness. As described in Ken Sande’s Peacemaker website, there are a number of useful things you can do to resolve conflict. In particular I want to highlight the PAUSE principle:

  1. Prepare: This means that you need to take time out to calm down and think straight!
  2. Affirm relationship: What is the point in resolving conflict if the relationship is not important to you. Remember why you want peace in your relationship.
  3. Understand interests: It’s not all about you. Use this break time to empathetically consider the other person’s needs, limitations, and desires
  4. Search for creative solutions: Return to the situation with potential solutions for discussion. Don’t make it their problem to fix it all on their own.
  5. Evaluate options: This is not an opportunity for a new fight (or to say those great comebacks you only thought of later), rather a collaboration toward restoration

So next time you feel the anger bubbling inside of you and you want to storm (rhinoceros) or withdraw (porcupine), I challenge you to take a time out and apply the PAUSE principle.