Most times when we hear the word conflict we associate negative words to it: war, battle, fight, strife, antagonism, quarrel, struggle, clash, opposition, squabble, tension, dissension, divergence, friction, and disharmony to name a few. I do an activity sometimes with groups and leaders where I put the word conflict on the white board and have people say whatever word or words that come to mind. I would say 90% of them have a negative connotation. This isn't surprising. Most of us don't grow up knowing how to handle conflict and not take it personally. So we become conflict avoidant or a conflict perpetrator.
Conflict left unchecked can lead to stress, and we all know where stress leads us. Our physical, mental and emotional health suffer. Our relationships and passion for work suffer. And there is so much suffering out there. Tiredness, grumpiness, sickness, disease, unease, apathy, etc. take hold of us and this is not ideal to say the least.
There are so many sources of conflict in our lives: someone not doing what we want them to do, resource restrictions, personality differences, differing beliefs and values, generational differences, differing processing styles, being hard on ourselves, not being able to change a behavior we struggle with, etc. And unfortunately the ways we try to mitigate the conflict in our lives can be negative themselves. We feel justified in perpetrating a negative behavior to others because they did something not to our liking for instance. Sarcasm, yelling, stonewalling, avoiding, cold shoulder, are various ways from passive to passive aggressive to aggressive that seek to handle our conflict. But...it doesn't work. And worst of all we create more conflict, the very thing we actually don't want!
So what to do? Here are a few action steps you can take: 1. Identify the stressors/conflict in your life as objectively as possible. What is happening? Is someone consistently late to a meeting? Don't put judgment on it, write it down as if you were observing something scientifically. 2. Look for you part to play in the conflict. How do you react to the situations that cause you conflict? It often takes two to tango. 3. Look at what you actually want. If you could change things up to have less conflict what would be ideal for you? To have the person call you if they will be late? To manage their time better? 4. Calm down and put your desires into respectful words, what I call feedback. In short, try to change things up by being calm and clear while addressing it to the person. There is a possibility that you need to be able to let go of some control and realize that sometimes people are different than you and that is acceptable. Some people process information slower, are more deliberative. And some people want quick action for instance. Both can co-exist. 5. Look at what you appreciate about the person or persons you are in conflict with. 100% of the time I have managed conflict in the workplace we were able to find genuine gratitude in each other.
Conflict is has value and is truly a message in the bottle. Yes, some conflicts may not resolve; some conflicts between countries are thousands of years in the making. But yours don't have to be. Show up and do something different. Let your guard down. Speak up for what you want. Don't let your triggers keep the embers of conflict burning.