Conflict Management Blog by Cinnie Noble
The expression “to have a bee in one’s bonnet” has a variety of meanings. One reported origin of this saying dates back to the early 16th century when Alexander Douglas wrote about someone being in bed with a head full of bees. “Going to bed with a head full of bees would seem to describe someone who can’t take his or her mind off something that he or she feels is important. It is speculated that the “bonnet” part of the phrase might have been derived from the large bonnet that a beekeeper wears. Hence, if a beekeeper were to have a bee in his or her bonnet, it would be very difficult for him or her to focus on anything else.”
What is it about getting a bee in the bonnet then, that leads to conflict? Though being totally focussed on an idea, view or thought does not always or necessarily lead to conflict, it can be challenging sometimes to be around someone who holds and repeats her or his position on a matter to the extent that there’s no room for alternative perspectives. There may even be a righteousness or rightness emanating from people who have bees in their bonnets that implies – directly or indirectly – that the other person is wrong. This is when being focused only on one viewpoint is off-putting for others and can lead to positional arguments.
If you tend to get a “bee in your bonnet” or become frustrated with others who do, the following set of questions might be helpful to consider.
- If you have a “bee in your bonnet” about something important to you and you are aware it’s leading to conflict with another person, what are you focusing on?
- Why is that especially important to you (your answer to the previous question)?
- What do you want the other person to understand about what you are focused on that you think she or he doesn’t?
- If you think she or he understands it, what is motivating you to repeat/stress your thoughts, ideas, etc.?
- How do you suppose stressing the “bee in your bonnet” is affecting the other person?
- What sort of conflict is emerging – or has emerged – for you from this?
- How is that (your answer to the previous question) a positive thing? How is it not so positive?
- If you are on the receiving end of someone who has a “bee in her or his bonnet”, what is the impact on you?
- What do you suppose is important to the other person that she or he is repeating and stressing her or his thought or idea? How is this leading to conflict between you?
- What would be a different way to manage the situation, whether you are the person with a “bee in your bonnet” or on the receiving end of someone who is demonstrating that tendency, that steers away from causing unnecessary conflict?
- What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
- What insights do you have?
Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You.