Conflict doesn't have to hurt. Yet many of our first experiences with conflict taught us to be fearful of the chaos and uncertainty that it brings. But what if chaos and uncertainty were not so frightening? What if we had the tools to recognize conflict and work with it rather than becoming dysfunctional?
I sought out the answers to the questions above and it took me years to recognize that I had a collapsed interpretation of conflict and toxic behaviors. In other words, I thought you couldn't have one without the other. Let me tell you a story to help illustrate the reason for my confusion.
When I was a young girl, my mother expressed her feelings harshly, loudly and with constant criticism. Most disagreements or differences of opinion resulted in an emotional escalation. My early translation was that the best way to manage the situation was to manage her emotional state. The outcome was that I didn't learn how to take a stand for what I needed, how to set boundaries or how to engage in a healthy dialogue about differences.
As a young mother I continued this pattern, ever fearful of conflict and doing my best to keep the peace. The same was true in relationships at work and in my personal life. Sometimes I avoided conflict by ignoring or stepping around it. I didn't want it to get ugly. I preferred to avoid feeling the brunt of others’ anger and disappointment. As I grew older something else happened, I started to feel resentment. I felt short-changed about not getting what I needed. I was royally angry, but I didn't know what to do with it. And the irony was that I was the only one who could.
On my personal journey I have learned about conflict and that it is born of differences that concern us. I have discovered there are both constructive and destructive behaviors. Destructive behaviors are harmful to relationships and escalate differences into unhealthy conflict. Constructive behaviors help us harness the power of our diversity. We have a choice about which behaviors we will use.
If you suspect that you have room to make better choices about how you respond to differences and the inevitable conflict that follows, listen to my podcast with Craig Runde. His work has been invaluable to me, and it is my greatest hope that it will be of help to you too.
If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
Deb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.