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5 Steps to help you face conflict with confidence (and why it's worth it)

Each one of these 5 steps builds on the one before it to open conversation and reveal what matters in a conflict situation. The result: being engaged in a way that opens paths forward, rather than entrenching defensiveness and harm.

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5 Steps for Facing Conflict With Confidence

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Conflict is part of life. It’s part of sharing space with others. And it grips us when our perceptions and experiences not only don’t match, but feel threatening in some way. 

While conflict is difficult and causes us to charge into battle or disappear and hide, when we face it with confidence, it can also help us expand. It can be a clue that there are important things to address, and that by addressing them, new perspectives and possibilities emerge that are essential for growth. 

Facing conflict with confidence is not easy. When we feel a ngry, disappointed, frustrated, or wronged, we’re vulnerable. We want to protect ourselves and what we care about. But in order to effectively do that - to protect and strengthen what matters to us in the most sustainable way possible, to harness the good that can come from conflict and turn what might otherwise be destructive into something constructive - it is important to cultivate skills for engaging rather than escalating conflict.

The Insight approach – the theory behind Insight Policing and Engaging Conflict through Curiosity – invites us to work through five steps to more effectively communicate through conflict to find new, more sustainable paths forward.   

These steps require us to: Notice, Verify, Ask, Communicate, and Listen.

Let’s walk through these five steps – starting with the need to notice

1: Notice

Noticing is a skill that goes two ways. We can notice ourselves and our own reactions to conflict. And we can notice others as they react with conflict behavior. Both are critical to engaging conflict effectively. 

 

Noticing ourselves

When we notice ourselves, we are attentive to:

  • feelings that arise that tell us something feels threatened or compromised, and 

  • our impulse to react defensively

 

The first clues that help up notice these things are physiologic.  When we perceive an interaction as threatening, our brains respond with a stress response that compels us to defend. 

 

What’s remarkable about this stress response is that its practical, protective function is counter-productive in interpersonal interactions. It tends to create more harm despite our intentions to protect. This is because the stress response cuts off critical thinking and our rational brain. We become certain without considering all the relevant information. We react without reflecting on the consequences of our actions. We demonize and blame because we aren’t clear on what our feelings are really telling us. 

 

The stress response, though, sends signals throughout our bodies that we can notice before giving in to them. We can notice the heat flushing our cheeks. We can notice our hearts starting to pound. We can notice the perspiration collecting on our palms. We can also notice the feelings - the anger, the frustration, the injustice. Those are all clues that it’s time to pay attention to what is going on for us in the moment. 

 

Once we notice, we want to ground ourselves, find our breath and get curious. But the first step is to notice. And if we don’t notice right away; if we’re swept up in our instinctual reaction, that’s okay. It’s never too late to pause and pay attention. Doing so paves the way for engaging conflict in a way that curtails its potential destruction and opens the way for constructive possibilities.

 

Noticing Others

Noticing others is as essential as noticing ourselves, and goes hand in hand with resolving conflict positively and productively. This is because the conflict reactions of others often generate a conflict reaction in us. When someone is mad, we tend to get mad back. We contradict, we defend, we protect ourselves. To interrupt that dynamic of escalating conflict, we can notice people’s conflict reactions before reacting to them.

 

Conflict reactions look on the outside a lot like how they feel on the inside. They can be conflict behaviors that are:

  • aggressive (imagine someone fiercely arguing or becoming physical),

  • dismissive (imagine being put down or belittled)

  • avoidant (imagine someone turning on their heel or giving you the cold shoulder) 

  • and even obsequious (imagine someone pleading with you or profusely apologizing). 

 

Conflict reactions can show up as heightened emotions (anger, annoyance, frustration) and they can sound like strong words. Each of these are indicators that someone is defending in order to protect against a perceived threat. 

 

When we notice conflict reactions, we allow ourselves a pause that keeps us from getting pulled in. 

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