Why, exactly, do we avoid conflict? Here are some of the main reasons:
- Lack of confidence with having difficult conversations
- Fear of being perceived as aggressive, needy, entitled, selfish, and so on
- Fear/avoidance of our own negative emotions
- Fear that the outcome will be worse than the situation already is
- Lack of confidence in being able to control our emotional reaction
Our own perceptions, as well as those of others, are huge roadblocks. We confuse directness with rudeness, self-defense with aggression and requests with demands. So, for many people, the risk is too high and they avoid the conversation at all costs. And this can work out… for a while!
Maybe you’ve realized that you can’t put off the conversation any longer. If so, here are 5 steps for having that hard, necessary conversation that’s been looming. You’ll be glad you took the initiative.
1) Know that you can’t step over conflict.
It’s there, and will remain there, until you address it.
Here’s the hard truth: life is filled with conflict. It’s a simple fact of human relationships (no matter how hard you may be trying to pretend otherwise!). So, the question to consider is, how will I handle it? By avoidance? Distraction? Burying my head in the sand? Getting overwhelmed? Lashing out?
Conflict resolution is a fact of life, both at home and at work. And the same patterns are likely to show up in both situations: if you avoid conversations at home, you may notice this pattern cropping up with your coworkers, as well. If you’re afraid of seeming needy with your partner, it’s likely that you’ll see this showing up with your boss, too.
The tricky thing about conflict between people is that it rarely “resolves itself.” It’s still there, unless you want wait a really, really, really, really long time. Even when you walk away from it, it’s there — within you, and within others involved. What I mean by “conflict” is not only the actual issue, but the breadcrumb trail it leaves behind. The negative space between people is also the conflict. So, you can’t really step over conflict. Every time you try to step over it, it drags itself right along with you.
The only thing that dissolves conflict is the glorious light of clear, direct, honest communication about what you’re dealing with, and creating a space in which both parties feel free to express themselves.
The good news is, it’s not impossible. All it takes is courage and intentionality — and for you to turn your thoughts into concrete action steps.
2) The key to conflict resolution? Take 100% responsibility for your part.
When have you reacted, labeled, assumed, blamed, and so on? Own this. Name it. When you reach a point of true humility — of truly taking responsibility for your role in the issue — the other person will understand that your goal really is to connect rather than to blame. That the relationship is, in fact, more important than your desire to win, hang on to your pride or justify your position.
3) Know that inaction is not a solution.
If inaction is the direction you choose, the cycle will likely never end. You’ll still take inaction in the next job, the next difficult project, the next relationship. Inaction seems like it works because you distance yourself from seeing the consequences. But, there they are… just waiting for you! The only way out is to learn to face the fear.
Difficulty in relationships is as inevitable as death and taxes. The fact of the matter is that, sooner or later, at this job or the next one, avoiding conflict will create problems. Real problems. The illusion created by avoiding the issue is that, somehow, the situation resolved itself just because you turned your head away. That would be awesome!
Sadly, though, the chips don’t quite fall like that. The elephant is still in the room, and it’s probably gotten bigger in the meantime. And even if avoidance does work as a strategy in THIS situation, you will probably find yourself in another context where it doesn’t. Unfortunately, inaction is not a solution. The only choice is to reconnect and get vulnerable.
4) Notice your coping strategies
What feels safe to you? What do you do instead of having the conversation?
Are you aware, on a personal level, of what your coping strategies are? How do you react in the face of conflict? Do you run away, get distracted, or pretend it’s no big deal? Do you point fingers, get angry or turn inward and blame your own actions? What do you do with your time instead of having vulnerable conversations? What feels safer to you?
Bringing awareness to your patterns can help you break them up and change your behavior. If you want to increase your self awareness around coping strategies, try keeping a log: when you feel stressed, what actions do you take in response? Do you eat? Drink? Watch Friends reruns? And do these patterns actually lower your stress levels, or simply turn the flame down for now, even though the problem will come back tomorrow, hotter than ever?
What would be possible if you could choose a different course of action?
5) Schedule the conversation and be intentional
Before speaking, set the intention to connect & understand, rather than to blame & assume. Have all your language reflect this intention to connect. Sticking with your intention takes practice, and is exponentially more difficult under stress. So it’s helpful to mock these conversations beforehand. Ask someone close to you to role play with you. Walk through all the positive and negative outcomes. How will you react if they say exactly what you don’t want to hear? What techniques do you have available to you to pause and step back if you hear something triggering or hurtful? Practice pausing, breathing, and returning to your intention.
Lastly, when the conversation comes, have your plan written down and bring the paper with you. Really. It might sound weird, but when you start to feel nervous or flustered, it’s a huge help to have your intention right there on paper. It will help you connect and understand, rather than react and blame from survival mode.
Becoming more self-confident can help you build conflict resolution skills. Here’s how to boost your self-confidence.