How to handle conflict when you hate it

How to handle conflict when you hate it- like me!

Dmitry Ratushny

Over the next few months I’ll be publishing a series of guest blogs from other people.

This month, my other half, Ben Gilchrist, shares some personal reflections on being conflict averse. And how to handle conflict when you hate it.

If you or someone you know avoids conflict, read on to learn the six key things that have helped him to face up to conflict and handle it anyway.

Let’s hear from Ben in his own words…

“I am conflict averse. It’s not my fault I was born that way. Well, alright a healthy mix of upbringing and my emotional wiring mean that’s part of who I am.

And it’s something I’m slowly learning to notice and appreciate for the strengths and weaknesses to be found there. Here are a few reflections on my journey so far. I hope it helps those of you who, like me, hate conflict and wish it would just go away!

Know it won’t always be like this

If you are conflict averse I’ve found a helpful mantra in any conflict situation is, “it won’t always be like this”. By bringing this to mind I can cut through the fear, anxiety or stress that conflict rapidly triggers.

For those who are not conflict averse, this might sound ridiculous but it can honestly feel like a conflict situation will never end and all the worst things I am thinking will come true.

Notice your reaction and consciously listen to others

If I can interrupt my instinctual reaction to conflict then I am much more able to consciously listen in an active way. When I can do this the whole conflict situation becomes easier to bear and much more resolvable, normally in a shorter space of time.

Living with others is probably the best practice for this. I can think of too many times with my wife and children where I haven’t been able to pause and choose to actively listen.

I am trying to though, and when I do this the power of reflecting back and checking what I’ve heard is palpable – it creates a different space.

Creating a different space with my daughter

Just this morning my 5 year old was yelling at me, saying I was interrupting her. This was a red flag for me as I thought that was exactly what she was doing to me. I managed to get down on her level and to articulate what she was saying to me and the feelings she was expressing. This action interrupted the spiral of conflict. I asked her to eat her breakfast as there was clear ‘hanger’ going on (feeling angry from being hungry). Phew!

If only I was always able to apply this! Often, my conflict aversion means I become defensive with simmering anger that is ready to erupt.

To show someone feeling afraid of conflict
Luke Jones

Feel your feelings – it’s OK

However I have learnt that it’s okay to feel my feelings and vital to accept them. In contrast to the volcanic eruption, I can state that I am feeling angry and be okay with not quite knowing why entirely. When I state my need for some time out to cool down that helps. It gives me more space to work out what I am thinking and feeling. Writing this out can really be beneficial too.

I’ve also learnt to better notice the difference in my reactions between when generally things are calm and the times where stress is high. When tensions are high, I can become overly diplomatic and not say what I mean. This creates confusion and frustration for others. I try to smooth things out too much and it doesn’t work.

When you hate it, lean in to the conflict

When I am aware and lean in to the conflict as something with potential, rather than retreating into what I’m comfortable with, it is normally much more productive.

Yes it is hard. I am learning to notice the fear, though, and put it aside. “It won’t always be like this”. Remember that.

If you aren’t conflict averse you may of course be thinking what on earth is he talking about?

Share your experiences with others

Please talk to someone you know who is conflict averse to hear the real joys and challenges it can bring. I would love to hear other people’s reflections on being conflict averse because of course it goes with the territory that we don’t talk about it enough.

Let’s share strategies for dealing with any roots of fear in this whilst celebrating the good things that it means we can bring to our communities and workplaces.

Here’s to doing conflict well, if perhaps a little less than some people seem to prefer.”

What are your experiences of conflict? Are you an avoider, a confronter or somewhere in the middle?

Please share this article with your friends – there are bound to be some who are conflict averse! Click on the links to share.

Conversation

3 tips for talking about thorny issues in your relationship

I knew that my husband and I needed to talk about money, so I brought it up.

It did not go well.

We had an argument that left an atmosphere.

Although we discussed one topic, there were several other key areas not even broached and we got to bed late, both rather deflated by the whole experience.

This used to be a familiar scene when it came to talking about money. 

So where were we going wrong? 

Firstly, timing. My husband is a morning person and I am an evening person.  It was after 9.00pm when I initiated the conversation, so it suited me perfectly but not so much my other half. He starts thinking about heading to bed at around 9.30pm, so I was not respecting his natural rhythm.  

Tip 1: Pick your timing carefully

If your topic is a thorny one, pick your timing carefully. Set aside a specific time to talk and avoid times of day when you’re hungry, tired or stressed out by a big life or work event. Nowadays, my husband and I prioritise having our money conversations in the daytime, so we’re starting from a good place.

Secondly, both of us became defensive quickly. This meant that we stopped hearing each other. We each had an agenda about what we needed to discuss and were trying to ‘win’ at that.

Tip 2:  State your expectations at the start

Take it in turns to state briefly at the start what is important to you so that you can work out an agenda together.

Thirdly, we didn’t practice active listening. Driven by my internal sense of urgency, I focussed on making sure that my husband heard me and forgot to really show that I was listening to him. He followed suit.

Tip 3: Practice active listening

Listen actively, which means summarising what you’ve just heard the other person say. This lets them know that you are really listening and checks out your understanding from the start.  

It sounds like common sense, right? But start doing it when you’re in a tense situation with your partner and it’s harder than you think.

If your other half is struggling with this, try an encouraging, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say? I just need to check that I’ve communicated it properly?”.

Nowadays, my husband and I talk about money less frequently but with more purpose and focus. It’s still not easy, but we are definitely hearing each other more.  

In the early days of our relationship, I remember once asking a very good friend to just sit and watch while we talked about money. It was one of the best conversations we ever had.

The final ‘bonus tip’ is that having a third party present can really help to change the frame of the conversation and create a way forward. I have worked with couples to support them in talking through those thorny issues, often in just one or two sessions. Though these sessions, those involved have learned about themselves and developed skills for discussing those tricky topics in the future. 

If this is something you think might benefit you, get in touch with me for an informal conversation on 0785 556 7563.

I’d love to hear from you.  What are the ‘thorny issues’ in your relationship?

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