The fear of conflict can be utterly paralyzing.
I remember needing to have an important conversation with housemates a few years ago, sitting on it for weeks and it affecting every emotional, physical and mental function. The fear of conflict gripped me more than the conflict itself.
The fear of conflict gripped me more than the conflict itself.
Sometimes, it pops up in social situations. What if I say the wrong thing? Will this annoy or bother someone or disrupt the peace? Oftentimes, this is the endless thought process that surrounds the moments right before you speak up.
The fear of conflict will also mask itself as the need to appease, please and placate everyone’s needs to preserve your own inner peace. If you have ever studied the Enneagram, then you know that is a pretty typical “nine” characteristic, though we all display it at times. Peace is easier, right? Yet, this superficial peace will only build resentment and frustration throughout time.
If I know I need to have a conversation with someone, then I typically spend hours running around different scenarios in my head about how the person could respond. I rehearse different phrases, tip-toe around corners or wait for a sign to appear in the sky that signals, “It’s time to talk.”
“Maybe if I just sleep on it, it will resolve overnight,” is a common one I have told myself many times. There’s also the common thought, “I think this will blow over in a week,” only to find it has been lingering in the back of both of our minds for the past fortnight.
What have I learned about the fear of conflict? Firstly, it gets me absolutely nowhere. Secondly, my thoughts are as valuable as those of people who freely speak out. I learned some helpful tools to overcome the fear of conflict.
Always assume the best.
Try to avoid integrating your thoughts with theirs too much. Too often in conversations, I’ll catch myself trying to imagine what they are thinking and feeling. Focus on taking responsibility for your side. Share your thoughts with love and honor.
If you need to resolve conflict, then assume that they are as willing to reconcile as you are and have the utmost love for you. In doing so, you will set a high standard for honor before you even begin. If you’re in a meeting, then come in with high expectations of the ability of clients and colleagues to manage themselves.
Value your voice.
Some thoughts are worth keeping to yourself. However, don’t let your fear of triggering others stifle your voice. Sharing your opinion or thoughts might trigger others sometimes and that’s OK. As long as you communicate kindly and wisely, their feelings are their responsibility.
Don’t let your fear of triggering others stifle your voice.
Stay present. Don’t escape.
Conflict can get uncomfortable. The easy option would be to opt out the second tensions rise. Nothing of importance and value was ever created via the easy option though, right? Simply “being nice” or opting out is an outdated strategy and a form of escapism.
Mirror back with a direct question.
My mother gave me the advice as a little girl that when someone confronted me, to repeat what they had just said back to them in the form of a question. You can say, “It sounds like you feel… is that right?” Sometimes, this tactic softens the blow and offers the other person an opportunity to reflect on what has been said. If you’re in a business meeting, then a great way to overcome the fear of conflict is to be ready to ask the client direct, objective questions that leave no room for confusion.
Keep calm, and carry on.
As a true Brit at heart, the motto “keep calm and carry on” has taught me to maintain grace and decorum rather than becoming aggressive, overbearing or disrespectful. Conflict does not have to look this way. In fact, the best conflict is fought by keeping a calm internal world. It is more likely to result in a respectful and, therefore, productive conversation.
As we become more globalized by the minute, it is essential that we learn to have conversations with those who differ from us. That will involve stepping over the fear of conflict. That starts with valuing your voice!