Conflict is the best thing for your relationships, stop avoiding it.



Someone you know has just annoyed you.

You feel the urge to say something...but stop yourself. 

You don’t want to make it a big deal after all.

You think to yourself, if you say something - they might secretly hate you afterwards, they’ll probably treat you differently or it could turn into a huge fight.

“I can’t be bothered. It’s not worth the trouble.”

So you figure: 

  • I won’t say anything, better not to rock the boat.
  • Or I’ll ‘kind of’ say something, they will get the hint. So you say 1% of what you’re really thinking, hoping that they will figure out the rest.
  • Or perhaps I'll just avoid that person now for the rest of my life…


Does any of this ring a bell?


THE PROBLEM


When we try to avoid conflict, we don’t really avoid it. 

Instead, 3 things usually happen:

  1.  We simply transfer the conflict from being out in the open where it can be dealt with, to inside ourselves where we stew on it. Thinking about it, working ourselves up about it.
  2.  9/10 times, the issues don’t go away. At best they simply continue to annoy you when you are around that person. At worst, they multiply till you can’t stand being around that person anymore. 
  3.  They keep our relationships shallow. You can’t be yourself around people you can’t be honest with, so you wear a mask or will simply avoid those relationships altogether.  


On the other hand, when we know how to navigate conflict in a healthy way, we are able to:

  • Get our issues on the table and reconcile them
  • Create strong win/win relationships with others
  • Feel more comfortable to be ourselves and have real relationships, not superficial ones


Sounds like a dream right? 

Here is how to turn it into a reality. 





First, get your mindset right


1. Stop seeing conflict as combat, and start seeing it as relationship building


When most people think of conflict their mind jumps straight to the idea of things getting heated and having a fight with someone. But this is just one form of conflict and not a particularly useful one. 

Conflict is the situation that occurs when two or more people realise they have differences and these differences have not yet been reconciled. Sometimes these differences are small e.g. I want to eat pizza, you want to eat Thai food. Sometimes they are huge e.g. one government believes in X approach to international policy, another believes in Y. 

Whenever there are differences (which is inevitable) that we have not yet figured out how to reconcile, we have conflict. Conflict is simply the process of how we attempt to reconcile differences, and we can do conflict in great and terrible ways. 


When we do conflict well, we find a new equilibrium and status quo that is better and stronger than the previous one e.g. an acquaintance becomes a deep and meaningful friendship, or a new hire becomes part of a high functioning team. When we do it poorly, our status quo remains the same or worse.

Some terrible ways to handle conflict:

  • Avoiding it and pretending it’s not there (artificial harmony)
  • Yelling, shouting, and name calling
  • Complaining to others about the person we have an issue with but not with them directly


Healthy ways to handle conflict:

  • Being authentic about what’s bothering us
  • Seeking to understand the other person's position and looking for win/win outcomes
  • Collaborating on solutions



2. DO sweat the small stuff 


A common temptation with potential conflict is to tell ourselves to ‘not worry about the small stuff’:

  • A minor grievance happens
  • Your boss makes an unreasonable request
  • Your friend didn’t come through on a commitment they made 

 
“It’s no big deal, best to just let it go.” Sometimes this is totally reasonable, if the issue really was a once off accident or special circumstance you may choose not to worry about it. But for repeat behaviours, however small, this is a poor strategy.

Letting go of the small stuff presumes that the best time to have a feedback conversation is when things are BIG. Unfortunately this logic is backwards. Issues are best discussed BEFORE they become big i.e. when they are small and easily managed.

If you ignore the small stuff, what often happens is others get the idea that their behaviour is acceptable, and/or left unchecked the problems grow and compound. Having the conversation when there are big problems is definitely important, but also harder, more tense, and much more dramatic compared to discussing things when they are small.



3. Separate the person from their behaviour 


Healthy confrontation focuses on the
behaviour and not the person. What specifically is the person doing that you want to confront them about?

As you identify the behaviour, do so with the recognition that they are a human being more than and different from their behaviour. 

This distinction will then free you to separate the conflict from them as a person, and just see it as a behaviour you have a conflict with.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What behaviour do you have an issue with?
  • What behaviour hurts you? How does it hurt you? In what way?
  • What damage is it doing? How do you know and make that evaluation?


Asking these questions will give you a de-stressing point of view. You have not made them (as a person) or their intentions, the problem. Only the behaviour is the problem - to you. 

If you operate from the belief that another person is the problem - perverse, hateful, worthless, etc. not only will this create all kinds of crooked communication, it will also corrode your ability to trust that person and the relationship.





Then, get the conversation right


So you’ve changed your views about conflict. Rather than avoiding it, you’ve decided it’s healthy and are ready to start the conversation. But how do you actually confront someone?

Use these 4 simple steps.



1. Come with the right intentions


Whenever you go face-to-face with someone in a straightforward way, you will need to be sure that you are ready, mentally and emotionally. 

So timing is key.

Before you start the conversation, ask yourself: 

  • How are you feeling? Are you so angry, you can’t stand to be around that person? 
  • How open is your listening? Are you unable to listen in an attentive way to the other person’s position? 
  • How clear are you in what you want to say? Do you have no idea and it’s all muddled up in your head?

If you answered yes to the latter questions, then you aren’t ready. Take some time until you feel grounded, open and are clear.



2. Invite the person in


Once you’re ready, invite the person into a conversation, rather than “high jacking” them. This way you’re getting buy in from the person to have the conversation, rather than forcing them to have one.

F
or example, “I have something that’s really bothering me and I would like to sit down and share it with you. Would this be a good time or would another time be better for you?”



3. Use “I” language, not “You” language


Good confrontation aims at getting the “facts” right before drawing conclusions.

One way to do this, is to understand that how you feel and what you think is your perspective and not “fact”.

For example, if you say:
“You don’t listen to what I am saying.”
‘You don’t care about what happens to our money.”
“You only think about yourself!”

These “You” statements assume that you know the mind, heart, intentions, motives of the other person. This is called mind-reading, and can quickly damage a relationship.

What to do instead? 

  • Use “I” statements when speaking
  • Make it obvious you’re drawing assumptions 
  • Check in with the other person about any conclusions you’ve drawn


It’s of course still okay to say “You” but when you do this, talk about the behaviour, not the person.

For example, “I may be wrong in how I am understanding and reading this, but you’ve come late to our meetings the past 3 times and I’ve made the assumption that you don’t respect or want to actually meet me. I’m not sure if this is true. Could you help me understand, what’s happening when you come late?”

When you use “I” statements, rather than “You” statements:

  • It helps the other person see that you understand this is how YOU are reading the situation, that it’s not “fact” 
  • You’re open to an alternative view 
  • You haven’t simply made assumptions or drawn un-checked conclusions

 
Doing this, helps eliminate mind reading and accusatory statements, which decreases any potential defensiveness the person might feel. Thus, increasing the likelihood of the other person feeling safe to share, which opens up the conversation. 



4. State your wants clearly and invite collaboration


Now that you’ve shared the behaviour that you have an issue with, do you have a new behaviour or thing you want to happen? 

If so, share it. Make a request about what you want from the other person, for example, “What I want from you is...” or “What I would like to accomplish is…”.

If you’re not sure how to resolve the situation, invite collaboration. 

Ask questions like:

  • How can we find a mutually beneficial solution? 
  • What alternatives can you imagine to help both of us win?
  • How can we make things better?
  • This doesn’t seem very productive, what ideas do you have that might enable both of us to fulfill our needs?

This way, you’re both building and creating a new status quo together in your improved relationship.





CONCLUSION


Most people try to avoid conflict, as it can be difficult, uncomfortable to navigate and often we think it’s harmful to relationships. However, conflict in life is inevitable, and 
if we try to avoid it, we will often create more problems for ourselves, not less. 

When done right, conflict can actually help us find new solutions, enhance our communication and be the spark to improve and deepen relationships. So, instead of avoiding it, to enjoy these benefits we must learn to embrace and handle conflict in healthy and resourceful ways. Approaching conflict using the principles above will help us do just that.

How do you like to handle conflict? Let us know in the comments below.

 



 

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