A while ago someone at work said how difficult it was for her to handle conflict, how uncomfortable it made her but that it was obviously easy for me because I did it so well.
Conflict makes me feel just as uncomfortable as a lot, if not most people. The difference is that I do it, even in the face of my clenching tummy and tightening throat. And I do it because if I didn't stuff would fester.
That's what happens when people avoid conflict. Problems don't vanish all on their own; the longer conflict isn't managed the more those problems get inflated till one day they burst.
The bursting process is interesting because often explosive conflict arises over something tiny that creates the spark for a conflagration. Bursting can also take the shape of someone complaining about 'the other person' to everyone but the other person. And it can take the shape of people leaving their jobs, bringing 'the other person' to a tribunal, and other ways of making their life and possibly 'the other person's' life a misery.
All because conflict is hard. So people would rather duck and dive than confront the issues head on.
Now confronting issues head on doesn't mean there needs to be a shouting match or that you have to become aggressive. Those are certainly two of the fears people have - that they and/or the other person will get angry; that there will be tears; that someone will storm out; that there will be lots of defensiveness and of course our old friend, denial.
Any of that could happen and those possibilities become even more probable the longer you wait to bring difficulties into the open. The main reason to 'nip things in the bud' is to achieve some kind of resolution; relive the pressure that's been building; bring into light things that have been hidden.
If you do screw up your courage to nip things in the bud here are a couple of tips:
Be really clear what you want to say and then say it. Often when people dance around the houses, prevaricate and never get to the point, the other person will know something's up and will rely solely on what's going on in their head to figure it out.
Avoid blaming the other person. People naturally get defensive when blamed and that completely shuts down communication.
Really listen to what's going on for the other person. When people are listened to and feel heard they are far more amenable to finding a solution.
Look to find a solution together. We all have pictures in our heads about how we want things to look, but really, that's usually coming exclusively from our point of view. Working with the other person will create buy-in and more likely a lasting result.
There is no question that managing conflict can be an uneasy business. The payoff for not managing it will make things even worse, so take a deep breath, plan a strategy and despite the anxiety step into the conflict arena.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory