Resolving Conflict: Weighing the Pain Factor

I don’t like conflict. I never have. I prefer to smooth things over and remain on friendly terms with people. When I become involved in a confrontation with someone I experience a physical reaction, a clutching sensation in the pit of my stomach. Naturally, I want to avoid that uncomfortable feeling so I take myself out of the situation. I keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. I put aside my wishes. I stuff my feelings.

I have come to realize that conflict avoidance has not served me well in life or in my work. Not rocking the boat is exhausting and gets me nowhere. There are times when I do need to stand up for vital issues, or let someone know that they’ve stomped on my feelings, or repair the damage I have caused when I’ve stomped on someone else.

Dealing with conflict is necessary. The tricky part, at least for me, is to have the guts (literally) to face it and then work through the process of resolving it.

Facing conflict is hard for a lot of people, but here’s something that might help. When faced with a choice to confront or to avoid conflict, ask yourself: Does the pain of doing nothing outweigh the pain of taking action?

Let’s say that your boss chewed you out in front of your employees and let’s say this isn’t the first time she’s done this. You have a choice to make: either say nothing and kick the dog when you get home, or let your boss know that her behavior is unacceptable. In the short term, for scaredy cats like me, it’s less painful to say nothing. After all, who wants to go up against Attila the Hun? But think longer term. By saying nothing you’re sending a powerful message: Your employees see you as weak and ineffective and your boss thinks you’re a pushover and will likely continue treating you that way. Avoiding this conflict will cause you much more pain later on.

So, bite the bullet and deal with the conflict. Yes, the conversation likely will be difficult. You don’t know how your boss might react; she may get angry and defensive; she may call you a wimp. (Of course, there’s an outside chance she may thank you for pointing out something that no one else has had the guts to do before!) In any case, you can’t control her reaction, but you can control yours. For your sake and the sake of your career, deal with the pain now and confront her.

The next time you’re faced with a choice to deal with conflict or not, try weighing the pain factor.

I’ll offer some tips and techniques for resolving conflict in the next post.

Until next time . . .

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