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How to Turn Conflict into Opportunities

2013 April 30

He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat. ~Robert Estabrook

Conflict StyleI can’t help but wonder sometimes how much richer and less stressful life might be if we were taught at an early age the skills to understand and manage conflict and disagreements.

If you think about it, most of us develop our conflict resolution style by default, through the influence of our families and, for better or worse, by toughing it out in school. And yet, conflict and disagreements are not only inevitable, how we handle them – or don’t – can have a significant impact on the quality of our relationships and overall happiness throughout our lives.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to begin cultivating the ability to use self-awareness, respect and compromise to effectively avoid or resolve conflict and disagreements and strengthen relationships in the process.

Strategies to Turn Conflict into Opportunities

Self-Awareness

As with any form of self-improvement, growth begins by understanding your current reality. Which of the following basic approaches best represents how you typically manage conflict and disagreements?

  • Accommodate: Letting the other person have their way.
  • Avoid: Essentially pretending the conflict never happened or doesn’t exist.
  • Collaborate: Requires listening to the other side, and looking for creative solutions without concessions.
  • Confront: Standing your ground, refusing to yield.
  • Compromise: Agreeing to negotiate toward a win/win solution.

Each of the basic approaches to conflict has their pros and cons, and may be suitable depending on the circumstances. The point to this exercise is that identifying your typical resolution style allows you to then honestly evaluate how this has worked for you up to now. In this way you can begin to either strengthen or change your approach.

Identify Your Triggers

We each have areas where we feel particularly sensitive or vulnerable. Make a list of your conflict “hot buttons” – events or topics of conversation that trigger your anger – and then decide how you could respond to these triggers in an empowering rather than destructive way. Create a script to help you mentally prepare for controlling your temper when these issues arise, and then practice it until it becomes second nature.

Cultivate Stress Relieving Tactics

Funny things happen when we get pissed off – our stress level ramps up, rapid breathing ensues, and we stop listening to anything but our natural instincts for fight or flight. Learn to quickly lower your stress level by slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, and if you need to, walk away and put yourself on a “time out.”

Listen

As simple as this sounds, very often when a disagreement occurs each party is so anxious to make their point and stand their ground, neither is actively listening to the other. Practicing the “shut up and listen” technique can work wonders to quickly and effectively take control of the situation.

Choose Your Battles

Life is simply too short to get sucked into unnecessary conflicts is the mantra of those who have a preference toward avoiding conflict. If working through a disagreement is more important than maintaining the status quo, then you should speak up. On the other hand, if the debate is going to create more problems than it solves, you may prefer to remain silent or change the subject.

TIP: Sometimes these little conflicts are actually tipping points signaling far bigger, more serious issues that, for whatever reason, we have been unable – or unwilling – to confront. If you find the number and frequency of seemingly inconsequential conflicts increasing, take the time to explore what’s really going on to avoid much bigger problems in the future.

I will never forget one night my newlywed sister-in-law showed up on our doorstep distraught and sobbing her heart out because she was sure her marriage was hopelessly doomed. Once we finally got her calmed down enough to talk, it turned out the problem was her new husband simply refused to put his dirty socks in the hamper and in her mind that meant he never really loved her. Of course we thought that was just newlywed stress over all of the changes, but as it turned out the real problem was far more serious (as in her husband had sex with one of the bridesmaids – at the wedding reception), and they did end up separating a short time later.

Find a Point of Agreement – Even if it’s to Disagree

Focus on one issue at a time and try to find something to agree on, even if it’s that you agree that it’s okay to disagree. When you stop trying to “defeat your opponent,” you’ll be more receptive to good ideas and resolve conflicts quicker.

Admit it When You’re Wrong

Admitting you’re wrong can be tough to the point of painful for those hung up on always being “right,” but the truth is no one is perfect, so odds are that at some point in your life you will be wrong. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and think about what might make you feel better, then bite the bullet and take your lumps. The good news is that if you are sincere, you’ll find it much easier to begin rebuilding any lost trust.

Moving Past Conflict

Learning to manage conflict and disagreements is an invaluable opportunity for personal growth. Best of all, the more effective you become at it, the less stress you will experience when conflicts do arise, and the stronger and more fulfilling your relationships will grow as a result.

Your turn. If you have any tips or strategies to manage conflict and disagreements, please take a moment to share in a comment below.

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8 Responses
  1. May 7, 2013

    Opportunities does not always come in shining and shimmering package. Sometimes, it comes when we least expect it. Our adversaries now could be an opportunity in disguise. :))
    Kristine recently posted..Gazebo MagicMy Profile

  2. May 6, 2013

    I think stress and conflicts can develop a person. I believe that we must make sure that we know how to turn things around and make them as wonderful opportunities for us. Awesome share. Thanks!

  3. May 2, 2013

    Hello! I found your blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! I’m so glad I did! I am following you now. Please visit my blog and follow me back. If you enjoy my post please “Like” or leave a message. I appreciate the support.

    Thank you,

    Vashti
    Vashti Quiroz-Vega recently posted..The FogMy Profile

  4. May 1, 2013

    Wonderful points of advice, Marquita. Too often, we get tied up in our conflicts that we can no longer see straight and get off-track in what we really should be focusing on. It is about being more mindful in our interactions and in our space to release what is really unnecessary and re-focus on our purpose. Great points of advice! Jon
    Jon Mertz recently posted..The New Thin Difference: Millennial LeadersMy Profile

    • May 2, 2013

      Hi Jon, you said it very well – when we don’t have the tools to effectively manage conflict it can blind us to the opportunities! Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation.
      Marquita Herald recently posted..How to Turn Conflict into OpportunitiesMy Profile

  5. April 30, 2013

    I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect! I hope you stop by to visit me at http://www.scheherazade-thewritinglife.blogspot.com/

  6. April 30, 2013

    Hi Marquita!

    Conflict resolution to me should be taught when we are very young in every school. I know it does begin at home, but not every home has the knowledge to do so.

    I am a big fan of conflict resolution because if you just walk away, you may be missing out on a good opportunity for friendship, business partnership, or even worse, marriage.

    Looking over your points of strategies, I would say it kind of depends for me. If someone is a totally negative or confrontational person, one who has a personality that does not bend, I bow out gracefully.

    However, I am big on compromise. I remember when I took in my 13 year old niece to live with us for a few years. She came from an out of control family and needed a place to stay. She was full of anger and only knew how to be confrontational. When I introduced the word “compromise” she was quite puzzled.

    After a while, she learned how to communicate and compromise. She also learned how to collaborate i.e. listen. It took a while, but now she has her own family. When she gets together with me, she always is thankful of the things she learned living with us because it brings her closer to her boyfriend and child.

    These things can be learned behaviors and they do work!

    Donna
    Donna Merrill recently posted..Do You Own Your Business or Does It Own You?My Profile

    • May 2, 2013

      Hey Donna, yep, in an ideal world such things as the skills to deal with “conflict” would be taught at home, but all we have to do is consider the ongoing problem with “bullies” in our society to know it’s not. Which is why I’m with you about the notion of teaching conflict resolution in school. When I was growing up there was plenty of “conflict” but never anything remotely resembling resolution. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. :-)
      Marquita Herald recently posted..How to Turn Conflict into OpportunitiesMy Profile

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