No more excuses! It's time to talk about conflict. I define conflict as a disagreement between two or more people. It can be very serious and complex or it can be easy to resolve. We resolve the conflict by coming to an agreement about the situation and how to move forward. It means speaking your truth about a situation. For people-pleasers admitting you disagree with someone can trip us up before we even begin.
I am conflict-averse by nature. It is the reason I steer clear of Twitter. Every time I go on Twitter I feel anxious. And if I weigh in on a conversation and disagree with someone I find myself wanting to message the person and explain, It’s nothing personal. I really like you. Even if I don’t.
I have a deep-rooted need to make sure everyone is feeling OK. I know I’m not alone. I had a friend who once had a ‘Brazilian Wax’ by accident. When I asked her how anyone could have hot waxed poured on her Hoo-Haw and then have the hair ripped off ‘by accident’ she said the Esthetician thought she had booked a Brazilian and she didn’t want to correct her. (Fun fact: I looked up words for vagina before choosing Hoo-Haw and I feel so educated now about my lady bits. I had no idea how many options were available.)
I want to help you avoid situations where you go ahead with something you don't want to do just to avoid speaking your truth!
There are lots of reasons why we avoid conflict. I am a ‘Feeler’ on the MBTI profile. I grew up in a home with frequent conflict. The fighting was loud and at times violent. I often felt terrified. I tried (and failed) to avoid doing anything that would set off my parents. I learned to avoid conflict and I had to discover early in my marriage how to navigate disagreement. I learned that avoiding conflict isn’t the best strategy. I’ve gotten much better at confronting conflict in my life but I have to tell you that I would be a very rich woman if I had a dollar (loonie for us Canadians) for every time I walked around an issue or avoided speaking my truth.So with that in mind, I thought I would offer you six fears you need to overcome if you want to get comfortable dealing with conflict. They aren’t ranked. I would love to hear which one resonates with you (just reply to this email).
Fear #1: The other person can’t handle it. I know the roots of this fear in my life. I was given this message loud and clear as a child. I get it. What I internalized growing up was that how other people reacted was my responsibility. It took me a long time to shake free of that one. I am not responsible for anyone else’s choice. They are. I’m sorry if you are tired or struggling in your life but it doesn’t give you permission to be an ass. And it doesn’t let me off the hook either. If I disagree with someone I need to let them know if it is impacting our relationship. How they handle it is up to them.
Fear #2: I’m too emotional. I’ve used this one to avoid conflict. For a long time, I saw tears or a quivering voice as a sign of weakness in myself. I was afraid that other people would see my tears through the same lens. Our emotions are an expression of what we are thinking about in a particular situation. If I am emotional it is because I have experienced a situation where I believe I have been violated and wronged. My feelings are not only appropriate they are accurate. I may lead with a comment like, “I’m feeling very emotional because of this situation. I want to talk about it and if I cry that’s OK.”
Fear #3: I’m afraid the person will reject me. (See last week's post for more on rejection.) I want you to be clear that rejection isn’t the same thing as someone needing time to process what you told them. Sometimes when you need to work through a situation or put up a boundary people need time to think through the situation. That’s OK. Rejection is when you are excluded from a relationship or social circle. It is a fear that can lead to groupthink. When my husband and I took a stand against the leadership of the church that fired us, we were rejected. We spent 15 years raising our family in that community and the majority of people never spoke to us again. That is rejection. And it hurt. And it was a gift. I spent a long time worrying about what people would think of me if I spoke my truth. I learned I can handle rejection. And so can you! I have decided whose opinion matters to me. I’m comfortable that the people I care about won’t reject me (or they wouldn’t be on the list!!).
Fear #4: I don’t know enough about the topic to say anything. This fear of having a strong, exhaustive defence for our position is a big one for those of us who participated in or are a part of religious communities where dualistic thinking and having the answers are a mark of spiritual maturity. Here’s the truth - you don’t need to have all the answers to disagree with something. I don’t need to know all the ins and outs of a situation to disagree with it. I don’t need to have exhaustive political, historical, academic or spiritual knowledge to put up boundaries. All I need to know is that something isn’t working for me.
Fear #5: I don’t have the energy/time/commitment to pursue the conversation. I get it. Conflict is exhausting. Just thinking about it can suck the energy right out of me too. Do you know what else is exhausting? Avoiding conflict. And having a healthy conversation can be quite energizing. Haven’t you ever felt that relief and lightness in your spirit after you speak your truth? Even just taking the step to schedule a time to talk can help with your energy. And commitment? If you care about the situation enough to feel conflicted isn’t it worth discussing?
Fear #6: I don’t want to rock the boat. This last fear is often related more to our social circles than to individual relationships. Maybe you don’t want to exchange Christmas gifts anymore with your family. Maybe you want to speak up about the way you’ve been treating in your faith community. Maybe you are tired of team meetings where people agree to do things and never deliver. You want to say something but you don’t because you don’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want to make waves. You don’t want to be that person. You don’t want the label. It’s a tough one and as I’ve said a few times the problem isn’t the waves. The problem is the boat. You need a stronger boat. Showing up wholeheartedly, speaking your truth and risking disappointing people is one way to test the structure of the boat.
How we handle conflict is often directly linked to one or more of these fears. As a mentor I can help you work through these challenges and help you resolve your own concerns so that you can have healthy boundaries in your relationships. Email me for details.