Fear is the number one thing holding people back from career success, better relationships, and pretty much anything they want out of life. Every year The Chapman University studies what Americans fear most. Rejection and the negative judgment of others continually rank near the top of personal life fears.
This fear expresses itself in myriad ways, but in business, it usually rears its ugly head in situations that require negotiation. It holds people back from turning leads into opportunities, closing sales, negotiating employment terms and salaries… the list goes on and on. Conflict is often avoided, especially by women and young career professionals. It hampers their ability to get ahead and have a fulfilling career.
In our personal life, the fear of conflict means we stay in toxic relationships, allow people to make decisions that negatively impact us, and behave as poor parents and friends. If the people closest to us won’t tell us the truth, who will?
What is Conflict
Before you change the way you approach conflict it helps to understand what it is and what it looks like when you avoid it. For most of us, any time we must speak up to disagree or push for our ideas can feel like conflict. It occurs when our family members take advantage of us or ask for too much and we don’t set boundaries. It happens when we don’t ask for the raise we know we deserve, or when we allow a co-worker or boss to push ideas that we don’t believe are the best ones. So many of us remain quiet because the anxiety caused by fear of rejection or failure is too great for us to overcome.
Avoiding conflict takes a toll on organizations and on our personal lives. I don’t need to tell you this because you already know, but I want to spell it out. When you avoid conflict out of fear you:
- Avoid tough conversations with your partner because you don’t want to fight. That means you put up with a situation that drains your soul and stops you from having the relationship you want.
- Avoid drawing boundaries with love ones and friends. You end up abused and taken advantage of, only doing harm to your relationship with these people you care so much about.
- Avoid drawing boundaries at work. Your self-respect diminishes because you, and others, see that you won’t stand up for yourself.
- Avoid contradicting co-workers and managers. You keep your great ideas buried
How We Learn to Be Comfortable with Conflict
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they wished they could have a ‘strong voice’ like me, or be as ‘direct’ as me I’d be fabulously wealthy. I know that behind my back other less charming terms are used to describe my willingness to speak up. I wasn’t born this way; I learned to speak up. Anyone can if they set their mind to it. Here’s how you start:
- There is a difference between being comfortable with conflict and seeking it out. You know the difference, so stop worrying that you’ll look like you enjoy combat. If you know that you are speaking up for the right reasons, embrace that and be satisfied with that knowledge.
- People don’t like you already. It’s ok. A recent study showed that half of the people we consider our friends don’t consider us friends of theirs. Let that sink in for a minute and then reflect on the fact that it doesn’t matter. You know who you can turn to when you need a reliable friend. You do not need the world on your side. Absorb and embrace the fact that everyone won’t like you and it won’t impact your life at all. Not so much is at stake.
- Speaking up is a very positive thing in the long run. You already know the discomfort you have from allowing the status quo to endure. You already look back on the times you wish you had said something when instead you remained silent. Think about what could have been different if only you’d said what you wanted to say.
- Becoming comfortable with conflict is a process. Don’t fear, you cannot flip a switch and become an altogether different person overnight. Just as with any change, the process is what will get you there. Check out the Harvard Business Review’s Conflict Strategies for Nice People.
Most importantly, stop thinking of conflict as an emotional minefield. You can confront issues head on without anger or fear. And like learning any new skill, what at first makes you nervous becomes more and more comfortable as you practice.
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photo credit: The dumb, bald mediator is playing with his smart phone via photopin (license)