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:
Does any of this ring a bell?
When we try to avoid conflict, we don’t really avoid it.
Instead, 3 things usually happen:
On the other hand, when we know how to navigate conflict in a healthy way, we are able to:
Sounds like a dream right?
Here is how to turn it into a reality.
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:
Healthy ways to handle conflict:
A common temptation with potential conflict is to tell ourselves to ‘not worry about the small stuff’:
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
If you answered yes to the latter questions, then you aren’t ready. Take some time until you feel grounded, open and are clear.
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.
For 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?”
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?
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:
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.
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:
This way, you’re both building and creating a new status quo together in your improved relationship.
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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