Tell me, what comes to your mind when I say the word “Conflict”.
Anger, aggression, bullying, dominance, threats, yelling, screaming, shouting?
Silence, avoidance, being ignored, sulking, withdrawal?
Through this blog, I aim to increase your awareness of conflict, its nature, what creates
conflict, its manifestations and how it can affect you.
I will also share seven approaches you can take to manage conflict effectively, reduce your stress and build healthier, fulfilling relationships.
Let’s dive in.
Nature of Conflict
Conflict is neither good nor bad, it’s an unavoidable step in your effort to interact with others, to understand them and then be understood
All this, while trying to manage your emotions, discomfort, resistance and fears.
Conflicts while challenging can also lead to creative solutions, fresh perspectives and a greater sense of collaboration.
How you manage conflicts in your life is critical for your success and well-being. You can’t wish it away. Like everything else, the only way is through.
Conflicts arise when there are differing opinions, different points of view or when two or more people feel they are being misunderstood, opposed or even disrespected
It could be that they think they are not being heard enough, or they feel threatened, maybe even fearful of you.
Rigid or false beliefs also lead to conflict as the mind is closed to an alternate view.
As a human being, just like everyone else, you have needs, wants and desires
Three of your primary needs are:
- Survival – I have enough
- Relationship – I feel loved enough
- Self-esteem – I am enough
A perceived threat to your needs can trigger your fears and allow your habitual
tendencies to take over.
You will then react rather than respond mindfully.
The Various Manifestations
Conflict usually shows up in one of two ways.
- Display of Power
Aggression, threats, bullying, yelling, screaming, abuse and physical violence.
Shutting down, avoidance, withdrawal, glaring, sulking, ignoring.
Neither approach works, both are derailing behaviours, yet you probably continue to
react in one of these two ways.
Conflict can be hard to face, to deal with and manage from a state of low awareness
Continued exposure to conflict situations that are beyond one’s control can lead to a
feeling of helplessness, stress, fear and even trauma (Soldiers are known to experience
severe PTSD* from prolonged exposure to fighting, injuries, death and destruction)
In my coaching sessions, I encourage clients to pay attention to what they are feeling
and how it’s showing up in their physiology,
Your body is giving you feedback consistently, and you need to learn to tune in and pick
up the information.
“The body is the source of all experience“.
~ Amanda Blake, ‘author of ‘Your Body is Your Brain’.
As an Executive Coach, I have observed that the stress from conflict tends to manifest in
For some clients its headaches, high blood pressure, loss of sleep, constant mind chatter
For others, its fatigue, foggy thinking, poor decision making, failing memory and
sometimes even anxiety.
Awareness gives birth to choice, the ability to choose something mindfully rather than reacting habitually.
When you become aware of your triggers, reactions and consequences, you can learn
and practice choosing alternative approaches to the conflict.
Focus on the possibilities
Just because conflict is unavoidable, it does not mean you have to feel helpless and give
in to it. The power to manage conflict effectively is always with you.
Working on self, becoming aware of your habitual tendencies and learning to replace
them with mindful thinking can bring you a sense of control and harmony.
Here are seven ways you can manage conflict and build better relationships
The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in finding through new eyes
~ Marcel Proust
Acknowledge that conflict is a given, you cannot avoid it; however, you can learn to manage it
Practice reducing your inner agitation, and focus your energies on staying calm and
objective in conflict situations.
Meditation, exercise, working with a coach, journaling, practising loving-kindness,
expressing gratitude are some ways you can address the stress effectively.
The above practices can also help you increase self-awareness, confidence,
empowerment, emotional balance and joyfulness.
2.It Takes Two
It takes two people to create conflict, and one of them is you, accept your part in it and work on yourself
Understand what is making you react the way you do, identify ways to show up better, to make the other person feel more heard, less fearful, choose to be the adult in the situation, exhibit maturity, openness and mutual respect
Alternate approaches can lead to alternative outcomes.
Make an effort to listen more than you speak because everyone wants to be heard, By listening more, you are conveying to the other person that they matter, thereby reducing the intensity of a potential conflict.
3. Don’t Judge a Book by the Cover
Remind yourself everyone has challenges and struggles in life, and you may not know
what they are going through
The “them” you see in conflict situations is their way of coping with the pressures in life.Start from a place of understanding, calmness and acceptance.
Give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they are having a really rough day, judge
their actions if you must, but don’t judge them.
4. Span of Control
Focus on what’s in your span of control, i.e. your choice of words, your body language,
your attitude, your intent and resolve to see things through
Watch out for potential bias, assumptions, presumptions that will creep in to distort your
view of what you think is going on.
Back up your discussion points with specifics and data, avoid blaming, accusing,
judging, generalising, labelling,
Practice staying open and curious, learn to communicate in a manner that empowers and encourages people to seek you out more often. Cooler heads are in short supply and hence highly valued.
5. Big Picture
Ask yourself what do you want out of this conflict, don’t lose sight of the perspective
What’s your intent here?
Who is right, who is wrong?
Who wins, who loses?
Nothing good is going to come out of that approach.
Set your ego aside
Focus instead on solving the problem on hand, address real concerns, do what’s right
for the customer, business, product/service, organisation, people.
6. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
Establish boundaries of what’s okay and what’s not, questioning your motives may not
be a big deal, a heated argument may be forgotten, raised tempers can be excused
Abusive, an insulting language may not be okay, violence should certainly not be tolerated.
Remember, in every interaction, you are sending out signals teaching others how to treat you.
If you don’t like how you are being treated, pay attention to what you are tolerating and
7.Call for Help
Escalate when it gets abusive, or you feel threatened, bullied, intimidated or when you
believe you have done all you can and its not going anywhere productive
Get your manager or someone senior to intervene and address it
Asking for help is a sign of strength, use it.
Keeping quiet and wishing it goes away rarely works
Conflict is unavoidable, your reactions to them, however, can be managed
A little bit of empathy, reframing of the situation, appreciating the other person’s effort,
avoiding judgement and listening more can go a long way in building stronger
relationships and collaborations.
Compassion can be another useful trait to develop in managing conflicts and building
successful partnerships. Read this blog about compassionate leadership. in case you
want to know more
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion
If you want to be happy, practice compassion
~ The Dalai Lama
Points to Ponder
- What can help you be mindful in a conflict situation?
- What about you, would you like to change to manage conflicts better?
- How would you benefit from managing conflicts better?
- Conversational Intelligence – Judith Glaser
- Crucial Conversations – Kerry Patterson & Joseph Grenny
- Leadership and Self Deception – The Arbinger Institute
- Seeing that frees – Rob Burbea
- Behave – Robert Sapolsky
*PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder