Does the thought of confronting someone make your stomach knot? You’re not alone – at least half of the American population suffers from conflict avoidance. We simply try to avoid the confrontation until the situation goes away. Unfortunately, in most circumstances, the problem doesn’t go away – it just gets worse.
We don’t like conflict for many reasons: it can be painful, scary, unpredictable or stressful. What we need is a conflict resolution tool to use in difficult situations. The good news is that we have one; the bad news is that it begins with us.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey coins a term called “response-ability.” According to Covey, what matters most is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. Our response-ability is the option to choose our reactions or response. This is where you come in – as a conflict situation arises, Covey contends that you have a choice of responses: to react and be angry or respond and be calm. It’s the first of many choices to make that shape the outcome of your situation.
The second choice is to determine the focus of conflict for you. Webster’s dictionary has many definitions for conflict. The first, and most widely used, describes conflict as “to fight, to battle, to be antagonistic or to clash.” Just the thought of this one can send adrenaline blasting through your system. Consider the second, less often used, version of conflict: “to sharply disagree.” Since we have choices of definitions, which version do you prefer? Most people would rather have conflict be a sharp disagreement rather than a battle – you decide. If you chose #2, now ask yourself how many times a day you disagree with someone…the point is that conflict is a natural part of our lives. Avoiding it is like trying to hold your breathe for an hour – you can’t.
Your third choice is to decide what outcome you want the conflict to have. There are positive and negative outcomes and results from conflict. The negative easily come to mind: stress, hurt feelings, damaged relationships, low productivity and morale or unresolved situations. The positive outcomes sometimes surprise people: conflict can be a stress reliever, we may gain new knowledge and understanding, it can actually cause people to bond together to reach a goal or overcome an obstacle, and conflict can form stronger relationships plus resolve issues.
Let’s put these three choices together: 1) how we respond to circumstances is what matters most; 2) conflict is a natural part of our lives and can be defined as a disagreement; 3) depending on our outlook, conflict can have positives results. The key is to remember these choices when you feel conflict arising or after conflict is initiated.
When you enter a conflict with a specific goal in mind, i.e., resolution or solution, it’s much easier to remain calm and focused. Choosing to make conflict productive is an active goal, which requires you to refocus throughout the conversation. Refocusing allows you to stay centered on your goal and guide the conflict constructively.
The bad news about this is that practice makes perfect. To effectively reduce the amount of conflict in your life, you must address it frequently and apply these techniques. The good news is that you will decrease tension and stress by creating an environment where people feel empowered to be creative and express their honest opinions. When people feel safe and respected, they are less likely to lash out or become upset. The best news is that knowing how to make conflict productive gives you a confidence boost. Maintaining control of you is the most important step in making conflict productive.
For ideas and strategies on designing a more productive and less stressful life, pick up a copy of Upside: How to Zig when Life Zags at your local Barnes & Noble store or visit www.amazon.com. You can also visit the website for free articles and ideas: www.UpsideTheBook.com.
With a career spanning two decades, Allison Blankenship is the go-to person for developing and implementing new ideas, strategies and start ups. After being both downsized and laid off, overcoming cancer and qualifying for food stamps, Allison has developed survival skills that have allowed her to adapt and thrive. She uses her vast experience as well as her award-winning communication skills to teach people how to perform under pressure. She has co-authored three books on leadership, productivity and communications, plus multiple audio series.
Allison’s message of “The not-known is the new normal” is hitting a nerve. Individuals and organizations are seeking innovative ideas and flexible tools to excel in a rapidly changing, uncertain and often unstable future. What worked last year or even last month is no longer valid. People need new critical thinking skills to navigate unexpected change and create sustainable success. Her latest book is Upside: How to Zig When Life Zags (Collage Books, 2010) co-authored with Bonnie Michaels, and it’s creating a buzz both in the boardroom and on the bus.