Mills: Be proactive to prevent conflict from escalating

Unfortunately, blaming doesn’t resolve conflict; taking responsibility does.

When we find ourselves seriously at odds with someone, a familiar reaction is to blame the other person for it.

They did this, or they didn’t do that or they won’t listen—responses like this are natural and common.

Unfortunately, blaming doesn’t resolve conflict. However, taking responsibility does. No matter if the person you are dealing is clearly aggressive or rude, or is unwilling to talk calmly about an issue, there are always at least two sides to that dynamic.

What I mean by that last statement is that if we find ourselves involved in a conflict or serious misunderstanding, we are influencing it one way or another.

It doesn’t really matter what or who caused the conflict; what matters is how it’s handled once it’s out in the open.

In my professional (and personal) experience, most people are extremely uncomfortable with conflict, have no idea how to handle it well, and often prefer to avoid dealing with it at all.

While I can appreciate why conflict is awkward for most people, I also know that avoiding it does not make it go away.   There are healthier ways to handle it.

The ideal approach is to be proactive and prevent early tensions from escalating. That requires self awareness and a willingness to talk about the issue/concern with the other party when it first arises.

You will likely feel the initial signs of interpersonal tension physically somewhere in your body (wherever you typically carry stress).

If you really pay attention to those signals when they first appear, you have a better chance of identifying exactly what transpired to cause them.

At this point you can step back and reflect. Was it something someone said, how they said it, what they didn’t say or something more subtle like negative body language that you noticed?

It could be any number of things but the point is that something was triggered and you felt it inside.

Too often simple things get blown out of proportion because either we don’t understand or the other person is unaware of how their comments or actions affected others.

So, instead of just letting that twinge fester until it turns into a real pain in your side, there is a chance to “nip it in the bud” so to speak.

One of the simplest approaches at this stage is to simply ask the other person some questions for clarification. For example: “When you said/did____today, I interpreted it this way____and it bothered me because____. Is that what you meant?”

Without your feedback, this person is bound to make similar comments again and next time you will likely be more sensitive and react much stronger.

This is called the pinch point. At this stage, there is still a chance to talk things out, though the greater your distress the more daunting it can be.

Not doing anything at all is worse because if that pinch point is left untended, the tension will eventually build to a breaking point.

Then emotions can run so high that reasonable discussion is lost and resolution seems impossible. Everyone around you is impacted and nobody enjoys that kind of friction.

What it comes down to is we each need to take responsibility for managing our interactions with others—and the inevitable misunderstandings and disagreements that arise.

We can’t control other people’s behaviour, only our own. There will always be people who push our buttons, intentionally or not, and it is up to us how we respond to them.

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