Raise your hand if you avoid conflict at all costs!
Does anyone actually like conflict?! Probably only masochists. I think avoiding conflict is an asset in many ways – it means you’re striving for peace. Truthfully though, avoiding conflict at all costs comes with grave consequences. When people don’t stand up for themselves or advocate for what they believe in they often are known as “people pleasers” and aren’t taken seriously. Why? Because they get a reputation that you won’t create any waves or don’t really have an opinion. Which means that ultimately, you’ll keep getting ignored or passed over, until you begin to feel undervalued and resentful and begin to manifest things sideways.
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How to know if you’re conflict avoidance has gone too far…
- No one takes you seriously when you talk
- You feel undervalued and under appreciated (or maybe even resentful and angry)
- You constantly obsess over work – even when not at work
- Experiencing an increase in anxiety or anger
- Feel stagnant, burnt out, or overly stressed
- Are beginning to develop more headaches, difficulty sleeping, or other physical ailments
Why you shouldn’t freak out if you're avoiding conflict
Listen, rare is the person who jumps up and says, “I LOVE CONFLICT!” But that doesn’t mean conflict should be feared or avoided. In fact, you are probably dealing with conflict more than you realize throughout your day. By definition a conflict is a “variance” meaning people are moving in different directions on a subject. Somehow over the years, conflict has become synonymous with fighting and that’s simply not true.
Try going through one of your days this week and notice just how many times a “conflict” arises – where you want one thing and someone wants something else. You’ll probably be shocked. Personally, in my inbox alone I’m faced with 100 plus emails a day that could be considered “conflicts” from people asking me for things I don’t want to do – we are moving in different directions about what we want. That doesn’t mean I ignore all the emails, many need responses and sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised that their initial email was written hastily and that we both have similar goals and end up working together.
There’s a difference between not liking conflict and not developing the skill for conflict – which isn’t really a millennial issue, it’s a cross generational issue (after all we didn’t learn the skill from a generation that doesn’t really have the skill either). So if you want to develop the skill I assure you it’s an invaluable asset.
How to keep the peace while working through conflict effectively
Conflict resolution is all about keeping the peace. In fact, it’s literally the practice of coming together to problem solve and create a plan forward where everyone feels comfortable. Just like in peace negotiations, you should show up ready to listen and understand the others involved. At the end of the day you’re working towards a common goal, even if you have different ways of getting there.
First you’ll want to acknowledge what the conflict is. While that may seem like a surprising first step, the reality is that not all parties are always “in the know” that a conflict even exists. Especially if you’ve generally been conflict avoidant up until this point. The best way to acknowledge a conflict is for each person to acknowledge their different perspective. If the person doesn’t know there’s a conflict, start by acknowledging their perspective and then noting your own.
From there you’ll want to stay present in the conversation that’s unfolding. Too often, people are practicing active responding instead of active listening. What I mean by that is, they are focusing on how they are going to respond rather than really understanding what the other person is saying. When you can stay present in the conversation you can cut down on a lot of miscommunication and reactivity.
Stop assuming other people’s feelings, thoughts, or next steps.
Conflict increases when we begin resenting one another for not understanding where we are coming from or for creating a mess for us to clean up. Often times conflicts turn into fights when those resentments build enough that we become emotional instead of rational. If you want to avoid having to double back on work and clean up someone’s mess or avoid hurt feeling down the road? Ask clarifying questions.
Clarifying questions are a great resources for ensuring everyone is on the same page. If you’re practicing active listening too it’s really helpful to make sure you heard everything correctly – and buy yourself some time while you think of your response. With that said, I think we focus so much on getting the conversation over that we forget to take a minute and really think about our response – which is totally okay thing to do and highly encouraged in resolving a conflict. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “you just gave me a lot to process, I’m going to take 5 minutes to think this over then get back to you.” Stating what you need is an invaluable asset in conflict resolution and moving things forward peacefully.
Stop denying, shifting blame and scapegoating.
Listen, I get how tempting it can be to pass the hot potato in stressful situations. But instead of trying to cover up the mess or issue, take responsibility for it. It’s better to be proactive about an issue to minimize the damage. Most people tend to protect themselves by denying the issue is happening or trying to shift the blame onto someone else, which only compounds the mess and leads to more problems, which subconsciously teaches us to further avoid conflict. On the flip side, if you actually just take responsibility, everyone can quickly move forward to problem solving. It’s a lot easier to move on from a contentious situation when there’s ownership and resolution to a problem.
Think before you speak.
If your response isn’t adding to the solution then is it really worth saying? This is why conflict and confrontation has gotten such a bad rep over the years. It becomes a back and forth of “he said she said” rather than a productive conversation to quickly fix and resolve the issue at hand.