The Thing That Makes Us Squirm – And What To Do About It

I warn you now.  You will not want to finish reading this blog.

It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you face something you have been avoiding for a long time, perhaps your whole life up to now. Many, many of us do.

If you find yourself fighting this blog, I challenge you to just…keep reading. It will make you a better leader.

Despite the fact that it makes you squirm.

Here we go…

There’s a certain topic that’s a common part of our lives. It creeps up every single day. It happens in the work place, the home, the grocery store.

It’s normal. It’s common. It’s life.  And it absolutely terrorizes us.

It’s conflict.

Don’t stop reading.

Growing up and into early adulthood, when I was upset with a friend or felt frustrated with a colleague, I knew deep down that that the best thing would be to have a direct talk with them, to get it out in the open, to fix the situation.

Then I avoided it.

I told myself that it was better not to mess with a good thing, that I should keep things comfortable, that the situation would resolve itself.

And when it didn’t, when my frustration built on itself, things were never the same. And often times the relationship ended.

Then I met Joe.

Joe was a good friend of mine in college, one whom I respected, who was important to me.

One day, out of the blue while sitting in my dorm room, Joe turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said: “You know, the other day when you told that joke about my outfit in front of everybody, it really upset me.”

I was stunned into silence. Not just because I felt terrible that I’d hurt his feelings, but even more so because of the direct way he told me.

He didn’t play games and he didn’t tip toe around it. He just said it. And then he stopped talking.

I apologized, and said I wouldn’t do it again. He thanked me, we hugged, and we moved on.

And that was the most stunning part of all. That we could have this direct, uncomfortable conversation and, in the end, move on even stronger, with a greater sense of trust.

It’s a minor example, but it opened up a whole new world to me.

We talked about this a bit in my blog Why Your Staff Doesn’t Like You Very Much.

Now buckle up and prepare for the down and dirty.

And don’t stop reading.

As a friend and a coach I spend a lot of time helping others as they prepare for these hard conversations. And I continue to have my own. And they are never fun.

Conflict has a high ick factor, and I hate it. Just like everybody else hates it.

Why is that? Why do we hate conflict? And why do we avoid it?

Because…

  • …we are nice, friendly, agreeable people.
  • …this allows us to live a pleasant, comfortable existence.
  • …it makes life easier.  It makes us liked.

Conflict messes with all of that. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It can be hurtful.

It makes us feel vulnerable, opening ourselves up to potentially negative reactions from others.

The truth, though, is that conflict handled right is a very powerful thing.

Keep reading, because we’re going to break it down.

When we avoid conflict…

  • …negative feelings linger, and sometimes turn hard
  • …we don’t listen, we don’t talk, and we certainly don’t forgive. And relationships are damaged as a result.
  • …we are less effective leaders, bosses, friends, professionals

But.

Working through conflict…

  • …leaves no doubt as to our intentions
  • …builds stronger relationships
  • …creates better solutions

Of course, this does not mean that conflict done well always ends well.

Others don’t always respond to conflict in a positive way. Remember, conflict is hard for everybody.

They might get defensive. They might be hurt. And you can’t control that part. Ick.

The best thing you can do? Handle conflict well…as well as you can.

Don’t stop reading. Next up…a few tips on how.  

Tip #1: Don’t get personal 

Talk about how you feel, what you experienced, how things seem to you. Choose each word carefully.

Do not make assumptions and do not tell the other person what they meant or why they did it. That’s their business and chances are you’re wrong. Their decisions are based on their history, their perspective and their experiences.

Just like yours.

Tip #2: Pick your time wisely

Know when to appropriately pull the person aside and have a meaningful conversation. Don’t do it while in the break room or around other people. Don’t do it while they’re on deadline. Or you are.

Tip #3: Own your part

We all screw up. Think carefully about the part you played in the conflict, and own it. This is not a time for defense or bravado. It takes two to proverbially tango.

Tip #4: Don’t chicken out

You’ll give yourself all kinds of reasons why not to have an uncomfortable conversation. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Think of how much better you’ll feel when it’s over, once you’ve gotten it out in the open. Do it as soon as you can.

Tip #5: Practice

You’ll only get good at this once you do it the first time and see that neither of you turns to stone. Be impeccable with your words…and know that it might not matter. They might get angry. They might not understand. And that has to be okay.

Tip #6: Remember…

…being a good leader, a good friend, a good partner, a good colleague means telling people the truth and communicating with authenticity.

Conflict is part of the game. And, terror aside, despite all the ick, you can do it.

If you made it to this point, congratulations. This stuff is no fun. My husband didn’t want to finish it either. But he did. Because he knew it was important.

I challenge you this week to notice when you might be avoiding a hard conversation.  Then, have it anyway.

In the end, you’ll be a better leader for it.

Even if it makes you squirm.

 Now, go do good…and do it well.

6 thoughts on “The Thing That Makes Us Squirm – And What To Do About It

  1. Patricia says:

    I have also learned that we spend A LOT of time thinking of what is bothering us more time than if we just dealt with it and moved on. Leaving that space for more positive and productive things.

  2. Patty Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre for a very Important tool in dealing with conflict. I spent the earliest part of my life thinking I could control how others felt about me if I just agreed and was “nice.” You’re right – it doesn’t work!

  3. This is really motivating! I also think we need to recognize that some of the time the other person cannot (will not) change, and all we can do is accept or leave the situation.

  4. Karla says:

    Great blog, Deirdre, and so true. I agree that sometimes we spend more energy thinking about the conflict without confronting it, which is just letting the conflict control you.

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