We routinely talk about conflict, the challenges with it, and at the same time having the intentional ability to embrace conflict. Embracing conflict in not natural for any one, and takes an extreme level of self awareness, and steady focus on commonalities of solutions not the conflict. But our biggest challenge in any conflict tends to be the natural human weakness to react rather than to blow off the steam, count to 1,000, wait until the next morning, to formulate wise words versus poisonous words.
There are 4 things in any conflict we all have to work very hard to avoid, and they are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.
A Not-So-Funny Story
I recently had an experience at an extremely busy restaurant in which there was some confusion with the menu. And given the extreme amount of business, and minimal amount of space to operate in, the waitress was short on patience, and us folks from Kansas were a little too slow to order for her fast-paced Boston attitude. She started with criticism of our inability to understand the menu, to which I tried to point out the difficulty in understanding how to order. She then got defensive and became sarcastic, so I pointed that out. She especially did not like that! That’s when she stonewalled us and sent us another server. By this time, my daughter Mac wanted to crawl underneath the table!! Have you ever been there!? Laughable at this point, but Mac was not happy and ready to leave!
The point of the story was not just to share what the waitress (and I found out in the exchange she was also the manager!) had done wrong, but to also recognize I was a part of the conflict and didn’t help matters. And to also recognize how in this conflict, we did all four things we should avoid during conflict.
A Better Way to Handle Conflict
We have all been there. We have all started a conversation when something didn’t go right at work or at home with an instant criticism, rather a question or how can I help or help me better understand or any self-directing question. We start with, “Why did you do that?” or, “What were you thinking?” which then leads to the other person feeling attacked. Our natural instinct is to defend what we did or didn’t do, which often leads to a feeling of disrespect or disregard, or feeling like we have been slighted. And in the end, the worst of all final outcomes, stonewalling. One of us throws down our hands, is mad, turns around and walks away without a word, or a few final parting poisonous words.
We all need the reminders, and as I tell people, most of my writing occurs from current situations or events, as I need to remind myself. Conflict is tough, difficult to remain level headed, jerks at our emotions, and our heart want to naturally react. But we must train our cerebrum to respond. For some this is easier than others, and we must all get to the point where embracing conflict becomes a natural response, and avoiding criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling become an innate ability. We will greatly help those around us each day if we do! Happy Leadership Thursday!