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Festering Conflict: Address Disputes Before They Erupt

Posted on Jan 22 2016 under Blog Posts

lava-67574_1280My second Minibük® Stop Avoiding Conflict: Learn to Address Disputes Before They Erupt will arrive in February, 2016. I chose to write about this topic because it is a very common approach my clients use to NOT deal with conflict. Organizations that reach out to me for assistance say “the employee says there is NO problem” or dismiss the hidden damage that avoiding conflict has had on working relationships and performance.

Most of us avoid conflict out of habit. A habit is a learned behavior based on an earlier formed belief and past experience that if I avoid/ignore/deflect, I will be safe. As a child, I learned to keep my mouth shut for fear of provoking my grandmother, who believed discipline came through physical, psychological and emotional threats. I learned to avoid conflict at all costs and, as a result, it became an early behavior pattern that continued into my early adult life. For many of us who hate conflict, there is a fear factor. A fear of not being liked, not being successful, not seen as a nice person, not viewed as competent and the list goes on. These fears prevent us from speaking up, voicing our concerns and asking for what we need. Unfortunately, the unaddressed issues fester growing into an ugly dispute and leading to a downward spiral in our working relationships. It can hurt productivity, contribute to stagnation and apathy, and be a barrier to decision-making. The irony is we try to avoid conflict to prevent this and yet, habitually avoiding conflict only leads to eroding trust and shaping people’s negative perceptions of us.

So, what do we do so the problem does not continue to fester and erupt? We must practice courage. Ruth Gordon says “Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” Courage is a choice. Being courageous and fearless takes practice; it requires vulnerability; it means making hard decisions and it requires action. For many people, including me, encountering disagreement and facing escalating interpersonal conflict is scary. Interpersonal conflicts challenge our beliefs, value systems and self-image. The closer we are to someone in a relationship — whether it be our teenager, coworker, spouse, sibling, best friend, boss or neighbor — the greater the opportunity to practice being courageous and building our confidence.

Let’s look at how you can be courageous in the face of conflict.

  • Observe and listen for disagreements and misunderstandings. Watch for fight, flight or freeze behaviors in others and recognize your gut reactions of discomfort, anxiety or fear.
  • Acknowledge and address disagreements before they escalate. Recognize early signs or statements such as “I only see trouble ahead” or reactions of people sighing and walking away. Then, name the disagreement. Say, “I can tell you’re concerned about this. Let’s talk when you are ready.” By acknowledging concerns early, you may save a relationship or prevent unnecessary damage.
  • Get off automatic pilot. Know you can make a choice on how to respond to a conflict trigger. Reacting at lightning speed when someone pushes your hot buttons means you are on automatic pilot. Decide ahead of time how you want to respond in constructive ways, and practice that new behavioral response. For instance, if you typically shut down or walk away when triggered, practice staying and listening.
  • Neuroscience research shows how important breathing is to manage our intense emotional reactions such as rage, pain and fear. When you find yourself triggered, take breaths to slow down the racing thoughts and intense feelings. It will help you think more clearly and make constructive choices about how to respond.
  • Communicate one unmet need each day. Fear prevents many of us from communicating what we need, so we don’t ask. Identify one important but missing thing you need from someone else. For example, you need extra time from your co-worker to complete your part of an assignment. Ask, “Sue, it is important for us to turn in a complete and accurate report. I need your part of the report no later than 2 p.m.” Keep it simple and build confidence each day.

These are just a few examples of how to begin breaking the habit and taking courageous moments to have your voice heard.

Pattie Porter

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach®

 

 


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