How to deal with conflict when you hate conflict.
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
I know a lot of people join me in my distaste for conflict. Something happens, maybe at work (theoretically of course), and the tailspin begins. In an effort to avoid the pain of conflict we push down our frustration, deep deep deep so it can grow and fester. And even though we know this makes us feel terrible, in the moment avoiding conflict feels like a better idea than engaging it.
Here’s the problem. In an effort to avoid the conflict with someone else, we decide to keep hold of the conflict for ourselves, and nurture it. So they shoulder none of the discomfort and we shoulder all of it. Seems a little backwards when it’s put that way. It certainly doesn’t sound like something we would willingly choose, and yet we do.
Obviously, I can’t give you tools for eliminating conflict in your life but what if we could reframe conflict to be a good thing and not a bad thing. Intrigued?
This idea came to me as the result of a discussion I was having this week with a friend regarding portion control and how the idea of portion control makes me want to slap someone (yes, I know this is a strong response.) We agreed that perhaps if we just framed it as choosing our portion, instead of portion control, that the whole feeling behind it changed. Instead of restricted and manipulated we could feel peaceful and ironically, in control.
So how does this even remotely relate to conflict? What if instead of focusing on the conflict (which is so easy to do since our emotions are involved), we focused on the outcome of conflict RESOLUTION, that utopia of being on the other side of conflict.
What if we accepted, in the words of Robert Frost, that
"‘the best way out is always through”?
If we considered conflict the barrier to entry for resolution, the barrier to entry for peace.
What is the actual outcome that you want?
Maybe it's to get a project completed or have good relationships at work. Maybe it's to develop a working process of communication or to resolve a social injustice. Whatever the outcome is, don’t let the aggravation of conflict cloud your view of the ultimate goal.
If we could do this, maybe we could stop saying things like “ I hate conflict” and just take it as the first thing we need to work through to feel better. I keep hoping that someday I will be evolved enough to not have to deal with these issues myself, that I can look back fondly and say, “remember when I still struggled with dealing with conflict?” Unfortunately, this isn’t how life works. Conflict starts with an event and then is fueled by emotions. As long as we have emotions this is something that will be present in our day to day. So we are left with figuring out what to do about it.
Conflict is like a river of misery. We can’t swim back to the shore we came from because something happened there to throw us into the river to begin with. That can’t be undone. And yet instead of doing everything in our power to get to the opposite shore of resolution we spend time figuring out the best way to battle the alligators, to show them who’s right. Or we swim in circles, just avoiding the alligators without actually making any progress. Maybe we prefer the approach of treading water, close to the shore we left, waiting for the alligators to get bigger and stronger and more intimidating. Forgetting that there even is a shore on the other side.
Of course, one approach here would be to realize that the alligators are really only concerned with themselves. Who knows, maybe you are an alligator too and can swim through without a huge fight. Focus on the prize of the other sunny shore, even if you get beat up a little on the way, and stop writing movies about the river.
Here’s the key, resolving conflict is not about changing the other person (sorry). ALthough it doesn't seem like it, this is good news because we can’t actually change other people. Once we realize this, we can stop focusing on the other vicious, annoying alligator, I mean person, and start focusing on what the desired outcome is and what we need to do to build this for ourselves.
I could give you the list of steps to conflict resolution but so can google. This is about WANTING resolution so much that you are willing to go through the temporary discomfort of conflict to get it. If you can make this mental shift, the dread of conflict lessens, allowing you to get to the other side of that river with less drama, less fear, and maybe even with some joyful anticipation of better things to come.
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