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Your Rules/Their Rules in Conflict Management

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Do you judge people for breaking a rule you always follow?

I realized recently that I was obliviously violating one of the rules posted at my gym, while burningly conscious of the rules other people were ignoring.

I know I’m not alone. It is very human to get upset when other people break your rules for behavior, and, to have a blind spot about breaking someone else’s.

I recently have had a new, humbling realization about rules at the gym.

I’ve written before (Zen of the gym parts 1& 2) about other conflict related realizations I’ve had at the gym, but this new awareness is particularly humbling.

The upstairs weight room at my gym literally has a list of rules posted on several of the walls. I was always very aware of the rule at my gym about allowing other people to work in the set if they were doing a lot of “reps”.  I would get very frustrated when people stayed endlessly on one machine and rudely refused to let me work in.

Confessions of a hoverer

Recently I reread the rules again while I was stretching out. The rule about allowing people to work in sets and courteously responding if asked how many more sets you were doing was indeed there, but to my surprise, there was another rule that I had never noticed before. It said clearly “please avoid ‘hovering’ or pressuring the person working out to stop.”

To my horror, I had to admit that I had been a terrible hoverer. As a repeat offender, I used to stare at people, and pace up and down near them, telling myself it was to stay warmed up. But, it was actually my impatience and desire to make them vacate the machine so I didn’t have to wait.

Several people got very irritated at me; a couple even yelled at me, but it never occurred to me that I was doing something wrong or breaking a rule; I thought they were being the unreasonable ones. I laughed long and hard at myself for being so very conscious of the rules I wanted enforced and so very unconscious of others.

So, now, when I’m waiting for a weight machine, I don’t stand close, I don’t look directly at the person, and I definitely don’t pace. I ask courteously and let it go. I simply follow the “no hovering” rule now as well as the ones that were always easy for me to notice and remember. And, no one has gotten angry at me since.

Your rules/their rules at work and at home

I think this gym experience is a beautiful example of something that creates tension and stress for many of my clients in workplace and family conflicts. They’re so conscious of what the other person is doing wrong, and so unaware of their own mistakes and omissions. Part of my work with them is to gently encourage them to discover others’ perspectives on the conflict.

Look at your own selective understanding

I encourage all of you to take a look at your selective understanding of rules of behavior in a conflict.

  • Are you breaking a rule, consciously or unconsciously and ignoring it?
  • At the same time, are you indignant at others for breaking your pet rule?
  • What might your part be in this difference?

Answering these questions for yourself could help you better understand the other person’s perspective and remind you that there is more than one “right” way of looking at a situation.

Post hovering universe

I’m generally very serene at the gym now after all my realizations about taking turns and following the rules. It feels easier and easier to see my part and acknowledge if I’ve made a mistake or missed something. I know  we all do that and I’m not unique: just another imperfect human being. I will never be perfect, but I can stay awake to multiple rules and perspectives! 


Lorraine Segal

After surviving the 50's and 60's, as well as twenty years in toxic academia as a tenured professor, Lorraine Segal was inspired to started her own business, Conflict Remedy (, happily teaching, coaching, blogging and consulting around workplace conflict transformation. She is addicted to reading novels and enjoys walking and… MORE >

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