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Conflict. Yuck! Who like it? Not me.


Thanks to all that replied to last week’s question: What’s your biggest challenge when you are in conflict with someone?

Some of you mentioned things such as:

  • “Effectively communicating my thoughts in a manner that is heard.”

  • “Being able to listen effectively.”

Communication training and tools are geared to solving the problem of how to “say it” more effectively, or how to demonstrate that you received the intended message. I would be lying if I said those tools didn’t make a difference. Heck, our thrive! communication tools are awesome. (Yes, I’m biased!) While these tools are valuable, they are only part of the equation.

What’s Happening Inside?

What more of you talked about was what was happening inside you during conflict.

  • “I get scared and feel trapped and want to leave just to feel safe again.”

  • “I just want to make it go away right away. I hate feeling like someone is mad at me.”

  • “Staying calm.”

This internal experience is harder to control, and what most people don’t teach: How to work with your internal energy in the midst of a conflict. It’s too bad people don’t focus here, because I can guarantee that that is the # 1 factor that impacts how effective you are, above all the tools combined.

Make it Stop!

My internal experience is not too different than some of yours. Growing up as a small person around a big, powerful person, I was quite terrified any time conflict arose or voices were raised, which was, only every night at dinner.

My nervous system got wired to brace against the energy coming at me, and rising within me. I was so uncomfortable that I would cut off from feeling my body, and then work like mad to calm the situation down. I would distract by changing the subject, asking a question, or rephrasing what someone said so that it could be heard. I was so scared that I would do anything to make the tension stop!

Hey, some of you pay us big bucks to facilitate your team’s conflicts. How do you think I got so good at it? Spending 10,000 hours around a dinner table facilitating will do that. BTW, Susan has her own superpower skills you’ll hear about in another post!

Different Habitual Internal Reactions

Most of us, when we are in conflict with someone over something we passionately care about, feel threatened, and:

  • Feel pressure rising inside until we spit out a harsh retort

  • Brace against the energy, getting smaller and just wanting to leave

  • Go numb, disconnect and feel nothing

Whether you relate to these, or have your own flavor, we have ingrained habits that get in our way. It is as if some other person takes over driving our bus, and we have lost touch with a wider array of our resources.

How To Increase Your Effectiveness

The key is to find ways to expand your resources right in the midst of the conflict event. If you want to interrupt your habitual response, experiment by trying one of these:

  • Feel Your Feet. It sounds so simple and unrelated but that’s the point. Focus on the sensation of your feet in your shoes, run your feet against the floor. See if you can feel them getting heavier. It will expand your narrow focus.

  • Notice Your Breathing. Don’t try to change it. Just observe it with interested curiosity going in and out. Notice if it is in your chest or low belly.

  • Take a Break. Interrupt and walk slowly (do not run) say, to the bathroom, feeling your whole body move through space.

Each one of these, shifts your narrow focus into a wider focus, which settles your autonomic nervous system down.

Now, don’t expect miracles. This habit probably developed when you were about half your current size. It has been there a LONG time, but continuing to interrupt it will eventually create big internal shifts that result in powerful external shifts in how you show up in conflict.

Susan Clarke and CrisMarie Campbell are Coaches, Consultants, and Speakers at thrive! inc. (www.thriveinc.com) They help business leaders and their teams use the energy of conflict, rather than – avoid or defuse it – to get to creative, innovative, profitable business results. You can see their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! On YouTube. They would be happy to coach you, consult with your team, or to speak at your next event. Contact them at thrive@thriveinc.com

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