Very few of us engage in conflicts with confidence and ease. In fact, most people fear conflict.
Conflict avoiders are all around us.
So are conflict magnets, or people who seem to thrive on drama and conflict. They don’t stir things up because they enjoy conflict. Typically, they’re not skilled at engaging appropriately in conflict, and internal triggers fuel actions that inflame conflicts.
Conflict isn’t typically in anyone’s comfort zone, but there are strategies to help us be more resilient in conflicts.
Our default responses to conflict are fight, flight and freeze.
We can’t help ourselves.
Conflict, or even the perceived threat of one, triggers physiological responses, such as heart palpitations and sweat. We all know that feeling, which Daniel Goleman refers to as “amygdala hijack.” A rush of hormones pulse through our bodies typically triggering our fight-or-flight responses.
Other times, like a bad dream, when we should respond, we are paralyzed. This freeze response is another innate self-protection mechanism.
It’s normal to fear conflict.
In my mediation courses, I ask people to share words they associate with conflict using a word cloud program. The more a word is repeated, the larger it becomes. As you can see from this screenshot, the top emotion expressed is fear.
As I discussed in a previous article, regardless of its potential for actual harm, our brain receives messages of danger in the face of conflict.
Just as healthy exercise and diet can boost our immunity to illness, there are things we can do to be more resilient in conflicts.
Below are three practical strategies for building resilience in conflict:
Use mindfulness techniques.
When I first started in the field of mediation, I was fortunate to observe skilled mediators remain calm through high conflict situations.
When I asked how they did it, the common answer was “meditate before you mediate.”
Slow down. Take deep breaths. Focus.
Clear space in your mind for calmness.
Mindfulness can help us be effective listeners. We’re less likely to react. We can think more rationally. We’re less defensive.
One of my go-to books on building mental resilience in the face of adversity is The Undefeated Mind, by psychiatrist Alex Lickerman. The more you can rely on mindfulness techniques, the greater the chances of discovering positive outcomes in your moment of vulnerability.
2. Build your conflict engagement skills.
Build your confidence in conflict by developing skills used by professional mediators and negotiators.
Practicing and regularly applying conflict engagement strategies will bolster your self-confidence in the face of conflict.
You will also gain respect of others by learning to effectively navigate conflicts.
Most likely, if others have confidence in you, coupled with a few successful negotiations under your belt, you will begin to experience less fear around conflict.
For most people, effective conflict engagement is a learned skill. It can be developed through training, support, practice and feedback.
3. Recognize your limitations.
Many things get in the way of our ability to engage in certain conflicts. Often our assumptions, perceptions and expectations get the best of our abilities to engage wisely. Alternatively our interpretations of body language or other filters signal to us this isn’t the best moment to participate in the conflict.
There are also external factors beyond our control, such as fatigue, time constraints or lack of information. When it comes to conflict, I typically advise people to engage over avoidance. There are some exceptions, of course.
It’s important to recognize realistic obstacles to a successful resolution in the moment.
Tuning into these limitations does not mean you walk away from the conflict indefinitely.
Sometimes taking a temporary pause is the best course of action. In this article, I recommend conflict engagement options, such as getting a lifeline or setting boundaries when toxic people knock us off-course.
These strategies can help you temporarily disengage and assess your ability to be impartial.
If you must participate in a conflict, but know that you’ve maxed out your ability to mindfully and confidently engage, consider bringing in a third party.
A neutral mediator can offer innumerable benefits to people in conflict.
Above all, mediation works.
I’ve been mediating for over 25 years and I’m still astounded by the positive shifts parties make in seemingly intractable disputes.
It’s the mediator’s job to acknowledge and validate the parties’ fears, concerns and interests. Agreements are reached in most cases, often resulting in creative solutions the parties didn’t realize where possible.
Next time you’re uncomfortable with conflict, remember your opponent is equally uneasy.
Try mindfulness techniques to regain your focus, build your skills to engage with confidence or use a third party mediator to work with you and your opponent.
I assure you, is possible to build and maintain resilience through conflict.
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