By Liz Kislik
What role does fear play in conflict, and how can we overcome it to address a disagreement? I talked about this with Christina Eanes for the Quit Bleeping Around podcast.
Keep Things in Proportion
Conflict doesn’t have to be dangerous. After all, we sometimes even disagree with ourselves: “One part of me wants to do A, but another part of me wants to do B.” Internal conflict can be stressful, but it doesn’t usually trigger the level of agitation, anxiety, and fear that can come from thinking that somebody wants the opposite of what you want — or worse yet, is out to get you. Different people want different things, and that’s a normal part of the human condition. You don’t need to feel afraid just because you want to go see a comedy and your buddy prefers a drama.
Expose Your Fear
A more activist way to turn down the dial on your fear is to figure out what you’re actually afraid of — and then lean into it. I interview a lot of employees in different organizations. More often than you’d expect, they express fears of “getting in trouble” if they disagree with their bosses or even their colleagues. But the likelihood of their being fired or disciplined for having a different point of view is actually very small, so this generalized, existential fear isn’t really accurate.
What are you actually afraid of? Is it that someone is unhappy or angry with you, or that they will be? Why not verify your concern instead of worrying about it? It’s not the most comfortable thing to do, but with practice, it gets easier. You can say, “Oh, you seem angry, Timothy. Have I said something that angered you?” When you do that, most people will say, “Oh no, no, no. I’m just concerned about X.” The very fact that you were willing to ask reminds them that you’re probably not the problem, even if you’re the closest person at hand to react to.
Once you’ve managed your fear, you’ll still have to deal with whatever the content of the conflict is. If you can get curious and learn more explicitly what the participants’ concerns are, what they care about, and what their fears are before you put your armor on, you can often work things out before it feels like you’re in a fight.
Give Yourself Time
But while you’re figuring out the conflict’s content, it helps to hold yourself in check, whether you’re feeling fearful, angry, or anything else. When the other participants see that you are calm, measured, and trying to understand, they’ll be much more likely to level with you. And then you can say, “Oh, that’s so interesting. I hadn’t understood the way you’re feeling about it.” Or, “I didn’t realize that those were your concerns. Let me think a little bit about how I can best respond to that.”
You don’t even have to answer right away. You can actually pause and think, “What should I do now? What’s the best …read more
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