It feels like a burning fist, punching you in the stomach. The feeling rises to your chest, face and head like a forest fire. You don’t know what to say or what to do. Maybe you walk away. Maybe you react angrily. Maybe you just start crying.
Whatever your reaction – can we all agree that conflict is not fun?
FYI, my reaction used to be either walk away or cry. Actually, usually walking away whilst crying. I’m not very good with confrontation and any type of conflict makes me nervous as I wait for that burning fist to hit me.
I still definitely hate it (let’s be real) but I feel like in recent years, I’ve learnt to deal with it a little better and wanted to share how with you. But first, why the hell does conflict raise such a reaction?
I think (in my case at least) it’s tied up with a need to people please. There’s this innate want for people to like us and agree with us, so when someone disagrees it’s threatening.
We’re social creatures. Look into our history and you’ll see why we’ve developed this desire to people please – being well liked and supported by a tribe or society was often the only way we could survive. With men historically (hm?) holding all the power, this feels especially true for us women.
We learnt how to make ourselves small and quiet so we would be palatable and thus protected by our peers.
We don’t need to do this anymore. We want to be loud, strong, make our opinions heard. And yet for many of us, when conflict arises, when someone disagrees with us, we still have that awful fist to the stomach feeling – a hangover from the way we’ve been socialised, perhaps?
Either way, the feeling is real and for many of us it holds us back. So what can we do about it?
If you know you have a difficult conversation coming up, or a conversation with someone you know likes to argue, try and prepare yourself. For example, if you’re going into a meeting at work and you’re planning to ask for something and suspect there may be conflict – consider what you’ll do if that conflict arises.
Do you have justifications for your request? Can you plan how you’ll respond? Of course, sometimes this isn’t possible, but when it is – a little preparation can do wonders.
Seek to understand
Conflict can often come from a lack of communication and understanding. Try to put aside reactionary emotions like anger and focus on what the other person is saying. Allow them time to speak, listen and seek to understand.
If the person isn’t willing to do the same for you, or you’ve tried to understand but just can’t (it happens) then think about whether or not the conversation is worth your energy – how important is it for this person to agree with you? Could you try and have the conversation at another time?
Pause and breathe
Before you react, take a moment to breathe. Consider the wording of your response and avoid snapping at the other person. Easier said than done, I know – but just taking that moment to think before you speak can make the world of difference to the conversation.
If necessary, step back from the situation
Sometimes it’s clear the both parties are too emotional and reactionary to come to an agreement. If your conversation is going this way but you’re keen to resolve the issue (i.e. you’ve decided it is worth your energy) suggest a break. Go away, cool down and give the whole situation some space.
You may find after you’ve done this you both come back to the conversation calmer and more willing to listen to each other.
Sit with the discomfort
If the conversation has ended with the other person not agreeing with you and there’s no way to resolve it… well, that shit can sting. It’s like the fire-y fist I mentioned at the start of this blog has taken up residence in your chest.
This discomfort isn’t pleasant, but sometimes you just have to sit with that. Not every person you meet and talk to is going to like you or agree with you. Sometimes you will just piss people off. And that’s OK.
It’s important to learn to sit with the discomfort of not always being liked and letting the fire gradually die down (because it does).
When conflict shows up in your life, learn any lessons there are to be learnt, accept that often when people are mad about something it usually isn’t actually anything to do with you (people project a lot of crap)… and move on.
You have opinions, ideas and passions. You are well within your rights to express these and to express them loudly.
Meet conflict with curiosity and the knowledge that some people won’t like you or your ideas. Keep breathing. Keep listening. Keep talking. Keep moving. It’ll be OK.
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