We’ve been taught to dread conflict. To avoid it at all costs, like long emails in the morning when we haven’t had our coffee yet. But why so? And why, since conflict is so present in our lives, aren’t we encouraged to learn to get better at managing it?
Conflict as a place of possibility
Conflict can be a great source of innovation. When managed with care and respect for each other’s values, it can be a momentum that carries out change, both at home and in the workplace.
Take the American invasion of Bay of Pigs in Cuba for example. The then-president Kennedy got his best advisers in a room and asked them if they should proceed with the invasion. They all agreed to kick off what turned out to be a disaster that cost the US a lot. When reunited and asked what went wrong, some acknowledged they had some hesitancy, but didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to be divisive. Oh, snap, even people in uniforms are afraid of conflict?!
History teaches us that good conflict in the decision-making process is essential. The US Nation Security System now has different people hired to come up with arguments for why they should do something and other people for why they shouldn’t. Because they know now that better decisions are made when there’s a dispute. Sometimes you do need fire to strengthen a strategy, just like blacksmiths do.
Getting back to the present moment, disputes became essential in our more-and-more diverse workplaces, where people from all sorts of backgrounds get to work together for a common goal. Where there is disagreement there is potential for growth and development, more creativity and better ideas.
Have a nice conflict
And so, let’s dive into the reasons why we have them. Plain and simple: conflicts emerge when there are differences. And since we all see the world a little bit differently, it is inevitable that we end up having disputes about the things that matter to us. The issue is not the difference of opinion, however, but the way we choose to express it. Take debates for instance – they’re seen in a better light because the people involved are not criticizing one another, but the opponent’s idea.
The ability to recognize the differences in us and then learning to communicate accordingly are key to anticipating and managing conflict. Just like a rough sea, it takes a good sailor to navigate the storm.
By understanding the different motives and different communication styles that people have, the dynamic of our relationships becomes easier to navigate and we are able to get to the core of the issues and find solutions.
And so, the first step when addressing a conflict properly is trying to listen to what people have to say even if they’re saying it really badly. Hear past the attack, hear the information. Then, understand the values of the other person to better frame your point for them.
When dealing with conflict, the challenge is learning how to identify motivations and values in yourself and others, and then use that knowledge to build a path back to self-worth for all parties.
Pause or reflect back to what’s important to the other person. What really matters to them? Is it really that you didn’t show up on time? Or is it something else? Is it the fact that something gets in the way of results? That things don’t make sense? That feelings don’t seem to matter? What is really going on?
Pause and reflect on what is important to you, too. What really triggers your conflict? We often hear -it’s because you did this that I’m in conflict. Yet often the “fault” is not only with the other person. We allow our conflicts to take control instead of us controlling them. We need conflicts to know what matters and to grow from them, but we can manage them more effectively.
Remember we all act out of good intentions. Talk about the important things first. Get agreement on what matters and then look for ways to reach those agreements in a way that feels you’re understanding and being understood, you’re building, not compromising. It’s in the mindset of how you see and approach conflict first. The how-tos come easier once you pin-point and value what’s important.
Self-awareness goes a long way
Hence, before learning to understand what other people are saying, we have to gain a better understanding of ourselves, our background, and our communication patterns. When we learn to recognize our own values and trigger points, we become able to better navigate tense situations.
Just the way flight attendants instruct us to put on our own oxygen masks first before helping the others around us. It takes conscious thought to prevent conflict within yourself and to create conditions that transform differences of opinion into opportunities.
So, how often do you put your mask first? Bring to mind a recent dispute you’ve been involved in. What was at stake and why did it matter to you? How did you approach the other one? How were feelings and personal values involved? When it comes to conflict, that’s a rich and fertile soil that you have to dig in order to improve your emotional intelligence.