Conflict: Moving from Cowardice to Confidence

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Experiencing conflict is a part of everyday life. A common response is avoidance. Most people say they just don’t like confrontation. It makes them uncomfortable, and some even become physically ill at the thought of discussing a challenging issue face-to-face. How then can you become more productive with conflict while still keeping your emotions in check?

Healthy and productive conflict can lead to:

  • Better relationships
  • Increased confidence
  • Decreased anger and depression
  • Greater respect for yourself and from others
  • Career development
  • Harmony

So why would a person avoid such constructive outcomes? The reasons people shy away from conflict can vary. From personality style, the way they were raised, to their culture, and even the people in their environment. Even obvious issues that are considered “undiscussable” can establish a blueprint for how a person interacts in the workplace.

“Dealing with conflict is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and sharpened.”


Few people enjoy discussing difficult issues, but some seem to have it mastered. Does this mean that they have never experienced difficulties? That they have always had positive interactions where everyone talked through every conflict or resolved all problems to a mutually satisfying end? Not necessarily. It could be quite the opposite. And the result is that they developed a coping mechanism to better manage conflict. You can assume that dealing with conflict is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and sharpened.

Some basic steps for dealing with conflict:

Realize that most people would prefer to avoid the situation.

Maybe it will just go away. The discomfort is natural. Don’t let that feeling make you a victim.

Issues become more difficult with time.

Problems are much easier to resolve if you address them early.

Recognize your triggers and patterns.

If you don’t like conflict, you may find yourself becoming quiet or demonstrating non-verbal signals, which may only provoke the other person. Stand or sit upright. Make eye contact and speak in a confident tone. This will demonstrate that you aren’t going to become prey to an overbearing personality.

Confront the issue—not the person.

Begin by using “I” statements instead of “you”. For example, “I need you to…” versus “You need to…” It makes it less personal.

Practice your responses.

If you find yourself wishing you would have said something differently, practice your response and use it the next time around. If you have a person in your workplace that uses passive-aggressive offhanded remarks, respond by asking, “What did you mean by that?” Let them know that you are not afraid to address their comments while allowing the person a chance to clarify.

Concentrate on how much better you’ll feel after you address the issue.

Get problems out in the open (and hopefully resolved).  Even if you don’t like the conflict, this should provide a sense of relief and reduce anxiety. If you are a person who usually avoids conflict, you likely hate it, and will always hate it. You may not choose conflict or confrontation—nor is it appropriate—for every situation. It won’t work every time and may even occasionally cause issues. Practice conflict management. You can become good at it, and it can be an invaluable tool leading to greater self-esteem, personal growth, and better relationships.

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