CONFLICT. Does just saying the word make you uncomfortable?
Why? Because conflict involves risks; potential hurt feelings, brash remarks, the end of a friendship, or altered feeling towards your boss, coworker, or neighbor. Conflict tends to leave behind some nasty and long lasting scars. Oddly enough, we love drama as long as we're not part of the conflict. Think of the last movie, TV show, book, or song you last watched, read, or listened to. Regardless of your choice of genre, I can almost guarantee you, drama made its debut. However, when we become the key player in the drama, it's not much fun.
I'm sure you've experienced a time in your life when you spoke up and it didn't go so well? If you closed your eyes you could probably recall all of the emotions that went along with the experience.
Just the thought of approaching someone about an issue tends to set our body into fight or flight mode. When dealing with a sensitive subject, you want to have a clear head. Unfortunately, the opposite happens unless we train ourselves to control our physiological response.
When we feel threatened, "fired up" and defensive; when our heart starts to race and our palms begin to sweat, our body is preparing to fight or flea. At this time neurotransmitters (chemicals released in the brain) epinephrine (aka adrenaline) and nor-epinephrine ( a neurotransmitter associated with alertness and quickness of action) are released in the brain, causing your sympathetic nervous system to react (fight or flight response). Unfortunately, our frontal cortex (where reasoning and language, and voluntary action is housed) is much slower to react than our sympathetic nervous system (which tends to take the lead during the height of conflict). But it doesn't have to be this way!
With practice, concentration and a shift in mindset, you can calm your primitive reaction and switch gears to your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your nerves, reducing heart rate and adrenaline. Has anyone ever told you to take deep breathes when you are anxious or upset? Taking slow deep breathes forces your body to calm down and get out of fight or flight mode. Clearly this is much easier said than done. It takes a conscious effort to relax yourself in the presence of conflict. However, it can be done.
First, we must look at conflict in a different light.
Most of us tend to view conflict as a negative experience. However, there is much that can be taught through conflict. Conflict can actually be very beneficial. We must see it as an opportunity to understand the concerns of the other person instead of jumping in, guns blazin'. When someone displays anger, it essentially means there is a need not being met. They may say very harsh words, but this is where we need to see past the emotion and find the meaning. Instead of playing the blame game, see yourself as a detective.
- First, understand that anger means a cry for help. This person or group feels as though they are not being heard or their needs are not being met. Start with just listening.
- Before you chime in with your two cents, look past their emotions and see the deeper issue.
Don't let harsh words throw you off. Instead, acknowledge their emotions. For example: "It's obvious something is really bothering you. You seem to be very adamant about your point of view."
- Ask unbiased and non judgmental questions to get to the heart of the issue.
Try to stay away from asking WHY questions and start with WHAT questions. This tends to make individuals less defensive. For example: "What is the main concern you have?" "What has caused you to feel this way?" "What do you think we can do to come to an agreement?" This line of questioning causes people to stop and think.
- BE CURIOUS!
Not all conflict is resolvable. Sometimes it's just the differing of beliefs and opinions that will never be swayed. If this is the case, STOP trying to bring them to your side. This is your opportunity to broaden your knowledge of others points of view. Be curious. This doesn't mean you have to agree, but it does give you a deeper sense of understanding why they feel the way they do. You can extend an open invitation to share your own reasons for your beliefs, but it is not something you should force. Only share if you have been acknowledged to do so. This is not meant to be a debate.
We can all learn a lot from conflict. When done right, it can be a very rewarding experience. Try to see the bright side.