Wednesday, 20 June 2007

"If the boxing ring catches fire then both boxers co-operate to extinguish the flames."

Edward De Bono's "Conflict" is an excellent but elusive book.

It addresses conflict in De Bono's lateral thinking way and is therefore freed from the conventions that restrict much thinking within conflict situations.

The writing is packed with ideas, metaphors, suggestions and starting positions. Sometimes the ideas are almost throwaway one-liners, like the title to this article. Sometimes De Bono kicks an idea around for a paragraph or two before before moving on.

Other writers would probably lavish a whole chapter on individual ideas in this book but De Bono just keeps moving on, seemingly content to let us ponder the implications and logical progressions for ourselves.

So, to the burning boxing ring then. A wonderfully absurd graphic image and one I hope that will stick in the mind.

As a metaphor it raises the concept of externalising conflict. Once the boxing ring has caught fire the boxers realise that they are not in a fight between themselves. Instead they are but two out of three elements within that struggle, namely Boxer #1, Boxer #2 and the arena in which the fight is being held.

The illusion of being wrapped up within the fight is shattered once attention is drawn to the Arena itself. What we see is the Boxers then collaborating to address the fire.

Very often I will draw client's attention to the fact that they could well be behaving in a certain fashion towards their spouses or partners as a result of currently having to operate within a litigious or courtroom arena. That can then lead them to recall how they used to address each other, or recall better times they had shared in different environments.

What happens once the fire has been extinguished? It would be hard to imagine the fight continuing. Would the Boxers just walk away, or maybe go through the motions of a fight but without the same passion? After all, there will still be the paying audience, our cheering supporters, who have their own expectations of us and we might feel a need to play to the galleries in that regard.

How would it work if we entertained the metaphorical notion of deliberately setting light to the boxing ring. In other words what can we do to draw the attention of the protagonists away from the all consuming combat and to create awareness within them of the environment in which they are working through this conflict?

Of course all of this could be a fallacy. Who is to say that the Boxers, so consumed by their conflict would not continue to duke it out to a knockout and then hotfoot it from what is left of the burning stadium? But then who said these ideas need to be true? All we need sometimes is a suitably ridiculous image to be aware of how we might be responding to conflict and how we might be acting up to the conventions of the arena we are in.

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