….think I was going start an argument, right? Well, actually, I want to TALK about a big deal these days.
Between Facebook & Twitter, I feel like we need a friendly reminder about a sensitive subject.
First, I’m gonna talk about these three points, and potential barrier that might rise up in each.
- What it is. And what it is NOT.
- Why it happens.
- How we can go about “doing” conflict well.
The go to answer: let’s learn how to MANAGE conflict.
Well, Brene Brown, in her new book, Braving the Wilderness, interviews Dr Michelle Buck (Clinical Professor of Leadership at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) on what Dr. Buck calls conflict transformation.
And I was so excited to see my personal experiences in leadership & home totally connect with what she shared in interview.
1. What conflict is, and is NOT.
Conflict IS. If you have humans, you have conflict. Humans are unique & diverse. Every person on this planet has their own view, perspective and opinion on a vast amount of subjects. It is guaranteed that someone, somewhere, will likely “disagree” with you (and me) on our opinion/thought/idea Why? Because we all see things differently.
The potential barrier: Seeing someone who disagrees with us as WRONG (and we are RIGHT).
Here’s an excerpt from Brene’s interview with Dr. Buck: (I will use several excerpts along the way but I strongly recommend you read the entire interview–powerful content.)
[Brene] Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, my default is “agree to disagree” and shut it down. What do you think about that approach?[Dr. Buck] People often silence themselves, or “agree to disagree” without fully exploring the actual nature of the disagreement, for the sake of protecting a relationship and maintaining connection. (Brown, 79)
Conflict is NOT bad or wrong.
It’s usually our reaction to conflict that creates issues.
Where conflict funtions like: 1) getting “the last word”, 2) “avoiding” in the hope it goes away, or 3) “winning” the argument. These reactions create unnecessary tension, stress as everyone tries to ignore the elephant in the room. We all know what that kind of tension feels like in a room; it simply doesn’t work.
Is there a way forward with it? Yes, a resounding yes!
Dr. Buck adds:
The key is to learn how to navigate conflicts or differences of opinion in a way that deepens mutual understanding, even if two people still disagree. (Brown, 80)
Grab your Blueprint to "Doing Conflict"!
2. Why conflict happens.
We care. A lot. Think about it.
If someone says their favorite chips are “Pringles”, and you aren’t that much of a “chip” kinda person, do you care? Not really.
If someone declares their football team is the best, and you don’t watch football–does it matter much? Nah, you’ll keep smiling and sipping your coffee.
But if someone declares their opinion on a subject that does matter. You are now paying attention.
We are deeply invested in our belief/opinion/position. And that’s OK, in fact, it’s good thing.
But if someone disagrees, we can begin to feel defensive. All of this is normal, by the way.
Conflict happens because both sides truly care about their position, and want to be heard.
It’s what we actually DO that matter. Our behavior matters. How do we react when someone disasgrees with us? What do you physically do? Do we turn red? Start pacing? Or shut down? These are all areas where we all can be curious about our behavior.
We know what unhealthy conflict looks like–we’ve been there.
I grew up in a home where verbal debate reigned supreme. We were taught how to argue. The goal? To WIN. The ironic thing is we grew up thinking all families did that. Now, as adults, we have learned THAT is not the case, as our spouses are happy to declare. Each person making their counterpoint, yelling, louder and louder. No one listening AT ALL to one another. Gratefully, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve chilled out, alot. It was all just debate to us, but to outsiders it looked awful.
It’s just not fun to be around.
Think about when you witnessed two people arguing heatedly–did you wanna stick around? Heck no.
The truth is, we as humans simply want to be heard–to know our voice matters. We just go about it all wrong–mostly because we may not know how. But we can learn.
So look, conflict happens because people really care about stuff. That’s a good thing. It’s how we communicate it, and react to it, that we can try to do better.
The potential barrier? Fear and vulnerability. Fear drives defensiveness, anger and blame/judgement. We may fear disagreement means rejection, failure or worse. When perhaps the issue isn’t about “us” at all. But we get stuck in the conflict cycle of disagree, defend, blame and withdraw. And that cycle is vicious, until we learn another way.
And that takes bravery. A subject Brene Brown deep dives so well. (Check out her other books.)
So consider this excerpt from the interview:
[Brene] So if we decide to be brave and stay in the conversation, how do we push through the vulnerability and stay civil?[Dr. Buck] One of the key pieces of advice I give my executive and graduate students is to explicitly address the underlying intentions. What is the conversation about, and what is it really about? This sounds simple, but tends to be easier said than done. The intention is the deepest-level reason why the topic is so important to the person. We have to understand what truly matters to us, and learn why this topic is so important to the other person as well. (Brown, 80)
Grab your Blueprint to "Doing Conflict"!
3. How we can “do” conflict better.
I was once complimented, “Heather, you eat conflict for breakfast!” I remember feeling proud. I was naive enough to think that a compliment. I was young in leadership. I didn’t know any better.
I know better now. The way I dealt with conflict in my professional & personal life nearly cost me my soul. I use the word soul as a representative of my whole human self–my health and well-being mentally, emotionally & spiritually.
Seriously, it was THAT big of a deal.
Conflict is the means through which true, authentic connection can happen. And the bottom line is intentional communication. It is possible.
Here are a few of my practices:
Slow Down–the sooner I can step back from the conversation and get perspective, the better. 2-3 big deep breathes help me slow down.
Stay Open--if I stay open in a conversation, without pushing the conversation where I want it to go, I have a better chance of hearing the other person. Staying open, to me, means I accept what’s happening, and allow the conversation to go where it will.
Ask Questions–asking questions, respectfully, invites the other person to share. I begin to see their viewpoint too, and understand. Even if I still disagree.
Actively Listen–Active listening means what it says. We are so actively paying attention to the other person’s words we are unable to “plan our defense or counter”. We are listening to learn now. A much more relaxed, open place for all.
Here are a some great practical tips from Dr. Buck in the interview: (emphasis mine)
One of the most essential steps in this transformative communication, and perhaps the most courageous, is not only to be open-minded, but to listen with desire to learn more about the other person’s perspective. I believe, and tell my students, one of the most courageous things to say in an uncomfortable situation is ‘Tell me more.”(Brown, 83)
Exactly when we want to turn away and change the topic, or just end the conversation, or counter, as you say, we also have the opportunity to ask what else we need to know to fully understand the other person’s perspective.(Brown, 83)
“Help me understand why this is so important to you”, or “Help me understand why you don’t agree with a particular idea” .(Brown, 83)
And then we have to listen. Really listen. Listen to understand, not about agreeing or disagreeing. We have to listen to understand the same way we want to be understood.(Brown, 83)
The potential barrier: Wondering if any of this is even worth it, particularly in today’s climate! I get it. But it is. We can learn so much from one another–I’ve learned the MOST from people I disagree with. Then I learn–we’re not all that different after all. Learning and modeling how to live together in real, authentic community is possible; let’s start here. This is an on-going journey of learning that can positively impact your workplace, home life & personal development.
Make sure you grab my blueprint to “doing conflict”–an info-graphic to support our journey in living real. Let’s start here.
Brown, Brené. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Or join my FREE FB group to get in on my monthly GIVEAWAY–I’m give FIVE copies of her book away on November 1st!