Zooming in and out of Conflict

Nick AdlingtonUncategorizedLeave a Comment

I really enjoy sitting down to write and reflect on relationship, difference, conflict, and the navigation of these sometimes challenging river systems. However, I can get pulled into the day-to-day administration tasks of running and developing a business. Then I can lose touch with the passion I have for understanding the nature of conflict and the maps we need to navigate through.

This dynamic can also often be present in the process of intractable and painful conflict. Conflict can be highly alluring. There are many and varied reasons why someone may find it hard to leave a conflictual relationship behind. For example, and speaking to my own experience, it can sometimes be a way of being seen and heard in situations where I may find it harder to find healthier ways of expressing my power (in Chapter One of his book, The Crossroads of Conflict, Ken Cloke details reasons behind the pull and pervasiveness of conflict. It is a subject I will return to in a future article).

We may repeat a process by returning again and again to the focussed white heat of a relational wound without a shift in approach or perspective. We may do this by continually approaching the other to remonstrate over the issue that is the source of such pain. Or we may continually go inwards and consistently mull over the discontent or even agony we feel.

Conflict can transform us to something new, something different. For this to happen though, requires a developed capacity to zoom in and out of a particular situation. There are two important benefits to this capacity.

Firstly, think of a zoom lens on a camera. When zoomed-in we see the single point of focus. We can examine this point in great detail. Yet at the same time, we may be unaware of the wider context in which this focus resides. Because of this, we may be less able to see what might be influencing the conflict. If we zoom in on the leaf of a plant, we do not see the stem and roots. If we zoom in on a conflict situation and focus only on the words and feelings in the moment, we may miss contextual factors that play an important role in perpetuating the conflict. Every situation is supported by the context in which it sits, classic “field theory” stuff.

The argument we have in the car about when to stop for a break is more than about the words and feelings shared in that moment. It is also to do with the fact that we have been sitting in slow moving traffic for the last hour; it is to do with the fact that I didn’t sleep so well last night; it is to do with my anxiety about an upcoming work project and the need to physically work off some of this energy by moving (and the person I’m with will have their own influencing factors for why they may want what they want).

Secondly, when we are focussed purely on the words and feelings of the conflict itself we are much more likely to have heightened emotions, including clearer and stronger signals of distress from our body. When we only sit with these heightened emotions, without respite, it is often so much harder to address, work through, or accept and let go of distressing differences. We need to breath…literally! We need to take in oxygen, we need to calm our nervous system. We may need to step away, and if not physically then at least energetically, to be able to do this.

If there is tension over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, we may need to disengage for a minute, we may need to disengage for five, ten minutes. We may need to go outside and move around. We may need space for some moments, or in extreme cases some years (!). This enables us to find some aspect of inner calm. From this calmer place we can re-engage with the other in a way that supports constructive conversation; or we can re-engage with ourselves in a way that is less pain focussed. However, clearly, I’m hoping that the “washing the dishes” argument doesn’t lead to years of separation!

Next time you’re in a relational situation and you feel the symptoms of conflict, see if you can stop for just a moment before responding to or engaging with the other person. See if you can zoom out for just a moment, perhaps think of something different, perhaps turn to look at something else in your immediate environment, or recall what you had for breakfast, or turn your attention to the feeling of your feet on the floor. And breathe. Go outside and look at the garden or trees, drink a cold drink, and take as long as you need to de-escalate the heat of conflict.

Many thanks for taking time and space to read this article, good luck on your journey through conflict. If there is anything you wish to discuss please get in touch.



Cloke K. (2019) The Crossroads of Conflict – A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution. Dallas: GoodMedia Press


An article by Nick Adlington, go-dialogue

go-dialogue works with families, organisations, companies, and communities, to build heart felt relationships and work through intractable conflict to something brighter.


Photo by Jonathan Mabey on Unsplash

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