Embracing Conflict- Strategies for Growth
Find yourself pulling away from conflict, trying to avoid it, giving yourself away or shutting down to do so? If so you are limiting yourself and your relationships as conflict can be a place of growth and connection.
1. Understand that conflict is a necessary part of the cycle of growth, rather than something that is wrong, that we need to resist or shut down. For no matter how much we meditate on peace and compassion, or try to eradicate our so called negative traits conflict still happens. Think of conflict like the disturbance of the soil as a new shoot starts to penetrate to earth in its search for the light.
2. What happens in conflict is intensity and a feeling of chaos, of being in the unknown, a sense of overwhelm or being out of control. Where we see the other as separate from us, even seeing them as a perpetrator. So although conflict is part of our growth cycle in the midst of this intensity our inbuilt survival system- the primal part of our brain- will create an instinctive fear, flight or fight response in us, causing us to freeze, pull away to protect ourselves, or fight back. Occasionally these responses ARE appropriate, more often they are a limitation to growth and change.
3. Counter intuitive though it may appear, when this intensity arises use the more evolved part of your brain in the cerebral cortex to notice the fear response in your body- the tensing, contracting in fear, churning in the gut, wanting to pull away, go blank or disappear. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, helping to override this contraction, for if there is enough room to breathe you must be safe. Decide if you are at real risk if you stay. If not, focus on soothing this feeling by telling yourself everything is ok, it is just your response to intensity but that doesn’t make the conflict itself wrong. More deep breaths will continue this process, bringing you back into a place of connection.
4. Thank the other person for raising the point or issue. Most people don’t find it easy to challenge; or are feeling hurt and angry, either way they are taking a risk so sending them gratitude and making where they are at ok has the effect of soothing both them and yourself. You are not agreeing with their point of view but creating a path of connection.
5. Reflect for a moment on your beliefs, needs and challenges in the situation and acknowledge them to yourself. Let go of the need to do anything about them. At this point it is not necessary to express them to the other person. It is important to have your own stance in any situation as this builds self awareness and self esteem, reducing the likelihood of your being overly accommodating at your expense. It also makes is easier to hear theirs.
6. Allow yourself to fully open and hear what the other person is saying, without needing to agree with it, just to hear it and get clarity to ensure you are really getting where they are coming from. Keep your attention on your breath and your heart as you listen. This does 3 things- it means you are dealing with what is real rather than what your fear based brain might hear in its place of trigger. It allows the other person to relax as they feel really seen and heard. It also allows you to remain in connection with the other. This creates a little space in the conflict.
7. Offer to share your about your own understanding of the situation now. As you share let go of any need to try and get what you want, or to invalidate the other person’s situation. This creates a bigger space.
8. Through allowing and understanding a creative space is born. You have moved beyond the place of reaction and can now respond instead. With an open mind to possible solutions discuss the situation with an intention of creating a win/win solution.
9. If you are not aware of what your own stuff is in the situation decide if you need to come back to the person later, after you’ve had time to sit with it. Decide if you can hold on to yourself whilst you hear them, or if you feel too escalated still. If so you need to do both later. This might take just a few minutes, or it might take longer to get your own clarity. Your ability to get to your own truth in the situations is vital to your ability to hear the others.
10. Practice makes better. Regular practice of turning inwards to become aware of your internal reality on a regular basis, along with reflection on who you are and what is happening in your life through meditation, mindfulness and reflection support you in being able to respond more effectively in moments of conflict.
11. If you find yourself going into a fight mode rather than a freeze the same steps apply, make your anger ok. Choose to feel it rather than making it wrong. Let it move through you. Use it as a tool when you express your part of the situation, use “I” language, own it without dumping your anger onto the other, let the heat of it be felt in you but from a place of control rather than explosion. Anger is the energy of change and can be a powerful ally if used well. You can also check underneath your anger, especially if anger is a recurrent theme, and if something bigger is driving the anger response such as fear or shame. If you become aware of these self soothe as above.
As you can see there is much that can be learned about yourself, as well as the other through conflict.