Do you recoil when you think about talking to certain people? Do you withdraw when someone comes to you to talk about a ‘situation’? Do you go along rather than rock the boat, even when you don’t agree- telling yourself, “It is not a big deal.” In other words, do you avoid conflict like the plague?
You are not alone. Most people don’t like conflict and avoid it to some degree. However, avoiding conflict can lead to a lack of creative problem-solving in the workplace, a diminished self-esteem, the possibility of a career stall- being passed over or not noticed, decreased pay, loss of relationships and connection and a general feeling of unhappiness.
Why do we avoid conflict, given what we lose by not resolving issues where we perceive there might be disagreement? To varying degrees, it seems to us that when there is even a hint of disagreement or upset, we feel threatened, as if our lives are in danger. We may not be conscious of it, but our brain reacts from some past incident (usually from when we were quite young) and the fight, flight, freeze or appease mechanism of the amygdala is hijacked. When that happens, we cannot use our higher-order thinking centers/executive thinking process. If we keep doing that, it is like any well-worn pathway, we avoid conflict all the time! You have developed the conflict avoidance habits. And habits can be changed.
What can you do? First, you need to realize that conflict is not scary. There is no real threat there—conflict is simply a conversation. You can survive conversations. In fact, you have survived millions of them. Seriously, what is actually happening is you say something and someone else says something and back and forth. Nothing more. (Disclaimer- I am not talking about having a conversation with someone who actually is physically threatening. Don’t do that.) When you can see that you are simply going to have a conversation with someone that may not agree with you or you not agree with them, you can calm your amygdala down.
I also find, when I talk to my coaching clients or when I speak about this in speeches or trainings, that the other thing people avoid is the perceived outcome of the conversation and a concern that someone may not like you. I always remind them that not saying something, swallowing their opinion and voice, leaves them not liking themselves. And the outcome of the conversation may, in fact, be you get something you don’t like, or you don’t get something you want. Here is the brutal truth- you are not a 3-year-old, you can handle that!
So how do you never have conflict in your life, in your business and career. Simple- shift how you see it. Know that conflict is just a conversation and remind yourself you can survive conversations. So, go talk. Say what there is to say. Work out what there is to work out. Be fully you. You can handle whatever comes your way.