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Zen of the Gym—What I’ve learned about workplace conflict resolution at the gym

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

I have belonged to the same gym for over 20 years. I primarily use the weight training machines, a bench, and the treadmills in the upstairs room with occasional classes downstairs.

I used to get into small verbal arguments with other members using the machines, partly out of my own impatience, and partly because they were violating the rules of courteous use posted on the wall, especially the one about letting other people “work in” a set if you were doing multiple sets yourself. When I asked people if I could work in, some of them reacted with anger, clearly believing I was rude and disruptive. They didn’t believe me if I tried to explain the rule, and then we would have a fruitless argument.

I realized I wasn’t practicing good conflict resolution behaviors, and wasn’t feeling very peaceful, so I found the willingness to take a different approach. I decided I would enter what I called the “zen” of the gym. I would enter into the flow, the energetic river, moving from one machine to another, and if there were “rocks” (ie people), I would simply flow around them to another machine. I wanted serenity and harmony instead of getting my way at others’ expense.

I would ask, peacefully, with absolutely no edge, if they were doing another set, and accept the answer much better, generally.

I also realized I had some “I’m special” impatient energy. For example, I felt that a certain bench was mine, and I was more entitled to use it than the current person. I had a conversation about this with my inner child (think 3 year old), and started reminding her that other people had just as much right as I to use a particular machine or bench, and that I had to share. I also remind her that she and I have no power to make people follow my rules, or any rules at all.

With both of these changes, I started feeling much more centered at the gym, and I noticed that machines simply opened up when I needed them a lot more of the time. If I was worried about whether my special bench would be free when I was ready for it, it got easier to reassure myself that it would all work out and I didn’t need to fret.

I encourage you to follow similar practices at work. I can almost guarantee there is someone in your workplace who violates your rules about courteous collegial behavior, or who is a scofflaw even about clearly written company policies. Of course, sometimes it is appropriate to take action, perhaps complain to a supervisor or meet with an employee. But often you may be spinning this energy into resentment, without having the power to make any changes.

The important thing to remember in that case is that at any moment you can choose to let go of what you can’t control and instead choose the “zen” of the workplace and your own serenity.


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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