The photo above is often how people picture conflict – people in a serious disagreement, arguing about who is right and who is wrong; tensions high; emotions worn on their sleeves.
With executive clients I’ve supported as their coach and trusted advisor, conflict shows up differently. It dances in the background – landing only for a few seconds and then quickly moving away so as not to be fully seen; it attaches itself to other issues like a sucker fish to a shark – riding along with the large object, carried by the momentum.
The ramifications of not directly addressing conflict are huge. For some people, it causes them to look for even more issues to justify their discontent; for others, it can elicit PTSD-like reaction where small things trigger the stress, the angst, the anger. In either case, it deteriorates the connection that existed.
Here are some ways clients have avoided direct conflict with the person(s) with whom they were in conflict. The actions are what the client did; the words in parenthesis are the motivators of which the client was not cognizant:
- Complain to others (to ensure they aren’t the only ones who have issues with the person).
- Tell their side of the story (to garner advocates or to simply get validation that they are in the “right”).
- Focus on other issues (to completely avoid the core of the conflict).
- Complain about much “smaller” issues (to add to the growing list which justifies the original conflict).
- Minimize or remove contact completely (to prove that it doesn’t exist).
So why do these things? Because conflict is hard and uncomfortable. The irony is that, in many cases, both parties want the same thing – to be seen, heard, understood, and valued for what they bring to the table.
The first step is to re-connect as people, to express appreciation for the other. The next is to acknowledge that the different perspectives aren’t either “right” or “wrong.” When both parties are open and curious, the connection will begin to heal.
Remember: When not addressed, conflict is the enemy of connection.
This Week’s Challenge: If you have an “obvious” conflict, ask yourself what is at the root of the issue. Be willing to be open and curious with the other person(s). If there isn’t anything obvious, do a mental inventory to see if any small disagreements are lingering before they might fester and grow into a conflict. Whether obvious or less so, take a step to address it. I know I make it sound easy – it’s not. Sometimes it takes an intermediary to help folks communicate in a way that gets to the real root of the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help – just make sure that individual is unbiased.
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