Conflict Communication

I grew up in a family that communicated well. Almost to a fault. I still get phone calls from my mom asking me if I remember someone from my elementary school and after five minutes and six degrees of Kevin Bacon, when I finally remember the person my mom is talking about, she will tell me something terrible that has happened to them. In fact, the only thing my family didn’t communicate well was conflict. Even typing the word conflict makes me tense up. That’s because I never understood how powerful conflict could be as a tool for growing. 

“The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but how we respond to them.” – Thomas Crum

So, if conflict is inevitable, and it can be a good thing, why did I spend so much of my life avoiding it? Simple, I am by nature a people-pleaser. If I had conflict with someone that meant someone was mad at me. I got really good at being passive aggressive and holding grudges against people who had no idea what I was upset about. If that sounds petty, it’s because it is. 

My wife gives a fantastic presentation called “Breaking the First Rule of Fight Club: Talking About Conflict.” If you didn’t figure it out, she’s much better at navigating conflict than I am. In her presentation, she discusses the STATE approach from the book Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. It’s a great book and a quick read, if you haven’t read it but the STATE approach gives you a very easy way to navigate conflict.

Share the facts
Tell a story
Ask for the others’ paths
Talk tentatively
Encourage testing 

Many times when we have a conflict we’ve had a ton of time to think through our side of the story. This leads to us going to someone with our conclusion. If your roommate didn’t do the dishes for a week or a month, your conclusion might be that he or she is lazy. A natural response would be to tell them they are lazy for not doing the dishes. If we can give a narrative instead, “Hey, I noticed the dishes have been piling up. Are you doing okay? What can we do to make sure we are both doing our fair share?” That’s a much easier conversation to have.

I know this because I was recently in a stalemate with my brother over him not showing up to a family event. We sent passive aggressive texts back and forth and finally, I called him. “Hey, I know I’m not good at talking about conflict, but it hurt my feelings when you didn’t show up to that event. I know you had a reasonable excuse but it still hurt.” Immediately the situation was diffused. He apologized and we are back to normal. How could it be that easy?!?!

I am by no means an expert so please don’t take this as preachy but in a recent meeting with the five people who are helping with our business, everyone said they preferred immediate and direct feedback. We crave that as individuals, but I am convinced that the way we deliver that information is just as crucial as the feedback itself. 

Am I good at navigating conflict? No. Am I actively working on it? Yes. I’ve started to realize the only way to improve in this area is to, as my wife says, “Break the first rule of Fight Club” 

Until next time,

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