With great shame, I confess that I tend to avoid conflict at all costs. This trait has gotten me into trouble over the years when I have either totally mishandled conversations or worse, not had them at all. Instead, I would ignore or react, act and regret it later.

So when the book Crucial Conversations arrived in my mailbox as part of the Leader Box, I was grateful. I know this is an area in my life that needs work. Lots of work.

Reading the first chapters made me cringe as they described ways in which people can mishandle conflict. Yup. Been there. Sadly done that.

My first takeaway from the book is that when you enter the minefield of a difficult conversation, you do so first having thought through what you want out of the conversation, what the other person needs and what you want for the relationship. In other words, it isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about mutual respect and finding a mutual purpose, and perhaps even a compromise.

This forethought prepares the way for better outcomes. So often conflict arises out of miscommunication, and clarifying what you mean is one way to diffuse a tricky situation which could easily escalate. By saying upfront what you didn’t mean and then emphasizing what you were trying to say, albeit not that well, can help to neutralize the difficulties.

The authors called this contrasting – for example,  “The last thing I wanted to do was communicate that I don’t value your work…. “I think your work has been nothing short of spectacular.” which illustrates the don’t/do statements they recommend.

Another strategy recommended before you act or say something you regret, is to pause, pay attention, and get in touch with your feelings and your story. Getting back to the facts helps you to distinguish what’s real and what’s something in your head that’s triggering your reaction.  Remember,  “just because you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Listening is a skill that is often under-utilized. Yet, when we listen we learn so much. Instead, when someone is speaking, we’re not listening, more thinking about what we want to say in response.  This doesn’t bode well for authentic conversations.

Like other areas of our lives, self-awareness is key to our growth. The challenge is sometimes we don’t like what we see and learn about ourselves, but it’s never too late to change.  Self-knowledge is the first step. A willingness to change is the next.

And perhaps knowing your triggers, so you don’t go on autopilot and react the same old way.

In other words, I am a work in progress. What about you? How do you handle conflict?

Anne Day

Anne Day

Company of Women

I have had an eclectic career from running non-profit organizations and being editor of a national magazine, to working for government on women’s issues. In 2003 I launched Company of Women, an organization that supports women in business. A prolific blogger, I also write for the Huffington Post, and several other online publications. I am the author of five books on women and entrepreneurship, and co-author of Good Enough. Embrace who you are. Unleash your brilliance. which is available on amazon.ca In June, 2016 I launched Full Circle Publishing offering one-stop services to get your words out into the world.