From the Blog
Got Dragon Breath?
One of my favorite cartoons as a kid growing up in Austria was the story of Grisu, the little dragon. His dream was to become … a fireman. There was only one little problem: He kept accidentally breathing fire, which didn’t exactly help the firefighting part.
I meet many dragons in my mediation and conflict coaching work. Some are like the mythical dragon whose movements serve as the model for a particular martial arts fighter style – strong, yet adapting to the needs of any situation with great flexibility. Many, however, are like little Grisu – breathing fire just because they’re dragons. They can’t help it.
I understand. Not because I’m a dragon myself. I don’t do fire. I understand, because I’ve done enough self-reflection and observed enough different people in conflict situations to realize that, when our brain senses a crisis, we return to who we are deep down. And dragons – well, they just breathe fire.
As with any ability or trait, dragon breath has both advantages and drawbacks. Fire gets people’s attention, which can be a good thing when you’re trying to communicate. At the same time, the accompanying panic, smoke and debris can be quite a distraction, which is not such a good thing when you’re trying to communicate. As a conflict resolver, I’ve had to point out to many a dragon: The other person has something you want – whether it’s cooperation, an apology, money, a product, or simply peace of mind. And she is more likely to give that to you if she’s not tied up tending to her third-degree burns.
As a mediator, I often have to keep the dragons sequestered in separate dungeons, uh rooms. (My idea of making peace does not include seared human flesh.) Sometimes, however, you may not have the luxury of staying in private quarters and negotiating with the help of an intermediary. In those situations, I have found two key ingredients to handling human interactions most effectively, whether you’re a dragon yourself or dealing with one:
Self-awareness. Know who you are, and be keenly aware of your strengths and limitations. Develop an acute sense of how your style may affect a communication.
Preparation. Work diligently to further cultivate your natural talents and improve on your weaknesses to the extent possible. Always have a plan on how to diffuse the situation when you – or the person on the other side of the table – are about to turn into little Grisu. Be prepared to crack a joke, take a break, or let someone else do the talking.
My martial arts training includes a “dragon” kata, featuring much twisting and turning, rising and falling, and changing direction during strikes and kicks. My narrow frame and long legs don’t naturally lend themselves to that sort of thing. While I'm rising to the challenge, there’s a limit to how dragon-like I can move.
My point here is: I know I’m not a dragon. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t do fire. Deep down, I’m a builder of bridges, mender of relationships and restorer of harmony – and this is where I return in tense situations.
If you’re a dragon, please know that I have the deepest respect for your abilities. Please also know that lasting relationships and agreements hardly ever flourish on scorched earth, so kindly hold your dragon breath. If you are truly unable to tame your inner Grisu, own it and be thoroughly prepared for the situations when you can’t afford any accidental fires. And if you’re like me and don’t do fire, rest assured that there’s no need to become like a dragon when you’re facing one.
As a wise person once remarked:
When you're tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.