Conflict has really gotten a bad rap.  Most often, conflict is avoided which eventually leads to ugly disagreements and possibly fractured relationships.  Even in the workplace, conflict often goes underground leading to denial, gossip, sick days, and good people choosing to leave and work elsewhere.

But what if conflict was viewed positively?  What if it could be a way of hearing about different perspectives and new ways of approaching old problems?  What if your work culture encouraged having hard conversations that were honest while still being respectful?

Before we address how to bring conflict out into the open, it’s important to address what gets in your way of dealing with differences directly.  Most often times, how we deal with conflict stems from our personality style and how we learned to deal with difficulties in our upbringing.  Which one do you most relate to?

  • Perhaps it wasn’t emotionally safe in your family to express your opinion or your feelings and you learned to please and accommodate to keep the peace.
  • Perhaps your family message was “you’re weak if you show emotion”.
  • Perhaps you learned to dig in your heels and fight until you got your way.
  • Others?

Research shows it is our parents or primary caregivers who teach us how to deal with conflict.  This fact isn’t to blame anyone, rather to help you identify what ingrained messages and life experiences could be affecting how you deal with conflict today.  You probably agree on an intellectual level that dealing with conflict effectively is a key emotional intelligence skill.  It can be quite another thing to actually work past it.

Here are seven tips to help you deal with conflict constructively:

  1. Notice when conflict arises, what thoughts go through your mind?  Do you want to defend yourself?  Run away?   Are you noticing the tendency you identified above from your family upbringing?
  2. Be aware of what happens in your body – knot in your stomach, tightness in your chest?  Flushed feeling?  Emotions are expressed throughout our bodies, notice how they show up.   By paying attention to how your body feels and acknowledging it as just a sensation, the emotions can lose their power.
  3. Take a conscious pause and breathe.  Use your breathing to keep you focused on the present moment to stay grounded and calm.
  4. Ask for a break if you need one in order to figure out what just got triggered for you.  It may help to silently label whatever is arising  – “anger, catastrophic thinking, disappointment”.  Labeling whatever is there can help to stop the fight/flight response when the emotional center of the brain wants to react.
  5. Ask for what you want.  More often than not, conflict doesn’t get resolved because people do not directly ask to get their needs met.
  6. If your request can’t be met, stay calm and engaged to negotiate how you both can get a little of what you want.  Validate each of your requests and the desire to work together and figure the issue out.
  7. Remember you can’t choose what others do; you can only choose your response – consciously choose how you will respond.

Ultimately unfinished conflict affects how well you focus, which in turn affects your stress, team collaboration, and productivity.  When conflict is not resolved it creates distractions in the workplace that affect the team morale and eventually the bottom line of your organization.

If you would like to learn more about how conflict can be beneficial to improving your relationships, consider attending the workshop on April 1st – “Innovative Solutions for Business Leaders…Dealing with difficult employees and people.”  During this workshop, I address in much more detail how to deal with conflict effectively, especially with abrasive people.

Make a Conscious Choice to resolve conflict and notice what happens to your stress level, teamwork and productivity.

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