We were with a client last week, facilitating a module of our multi-day leadership program. This month’s session was about conflict and difficult conversations.
We asked, as always, about the positives and negatives of conflict. The group offered many more positives than negatives, which is uncommon. So I questioned them. “Why?” I asked. “Why, if you know all of these positives, do you hate conflict so much?”
“Because it’s so uncomfortable!” they quickly responded.
I hate conflict. For me, I know it is because I denied my anger when I was a child and, left to my own devices, will most likely avoid it now. I don’t like confronting people or upsetting them. I’m still too much of a (recovering) people pleaser to push for what I want.
But conflict is necessary, and conflict can be good. It can bring out different perspectives and options. It can yield better solutions. It can make the sum better than the parts and plant the seeds to heal relationships that have been simmering with resentment. But it’s only good if and when we learn to have it constructively.
Here are a few steps to doing that:
- Have the conversation when you’re calm – If at all possible, avoid diving into a contentious conversation when you’re in a combustible mood. Do your best to calm your emotions so that you can come from a more rational, open place. Talk the situation through with someone first, so you’ve worked through some of the more heated points, or use physical activity to release some of your bodily tension and/or anger.
- Try to see things from their perspective – Again, if at all possible, try to be open to how the other person might see things or what the other person might need. If you can put yourself in their shoes, you might be able to see the points in their arguments or it might change your perception of them.
- Acknowledge your emotions – It is better to admit that you’re angry, or frustrated, or hurt than to pretend that you’re not. If you ignore your feelings, they’re still there. If you stamp them down, they have a weird way of bubbling to the surface. I’m not suggesting you scream in anger or lash out at the other person, but admitting how you’re feeling brings more information into the situation and the relationship.
- Be willing to listen – And listen some more. Especially in a heated conversation, both sides just want to be heard. As much as you want the person you’re talking/fighting with to hear you, try to hear them. Really hear them. Acknowledge their point of view. Validate their feelings. Recognize their needs and wants and why this is important to them. The more you’re willing to listen, often the more you will be heard.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate conflict. I still cringe when I have to stand up for myself or argue for my point of view. I’d still rather concede and nurse my disgruntled wounds. But I’m learning to dive in and use disagreements and dissatisfaction to bring about a better outcome. You can too.
How have you learned to have conflict be a good thing?
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