I just hate conflict. I hate it so much that it paralyses me. It’s why I am crap at management. I’m crap in meetings. I hate the feeling in my stomach. I hate the anxiety in my chest. I hate the thought that I have hurt somebody or am hurting somebody. But often, the reason conflict arises is because of already perceived pain. I am hurting. Or somebody I care about is hurting. So once you arrive at a point of conflict, it’s already a no-win situation. Somebody is already hurt and by some awful cycle of fate, conflict seems the only way of righting that wrong.

From my observation, to deal with conflict calmly, you can’t be a people-pleaser. You have to be sure of your stance and you have to not care whether people think you are being reasonable or not. You BE reasonable in your tone of voice and your posture. And what you say and how you defend it becomes reasonable in that quietly modulated argument.

I am not that person. When I feel passionately that I am right or when I feel strongly the pain of myself or somebody else, I seem to be incapable of staying calm. The anxiety pushes up all the way from my gut and into my throat. It blocks my blood flow and makes me stupid. My heart goes bananas and my palms start sweating. I start babbling. I start self-justifying. I start seeing the other person’s point of view which muddles my own thinking. Yes, I start thinking that maybe they’re right and I am wrong. I start doubting my own passion. I start doubting the very solid premise on which I thought I began the conversation.

And so, in the end, conflict rarely changes anybody’s mind. Or at least, as a person who manages it poorly, that is my experience. So in the end, I feel bad and guilty and ashamed and stupid. Often mostly stupid. Stupid because every time I go in that direction, I think I will have learned something or improved my approach or stayed calm. And every time I achieve virtually nothing.

I don’t know if you can live life without conflict. I don’t know if I will ever get better at conflict. It seems to me that to be good at conflict you have to shut down your empathy and I don’t like that thought. If I can learn to shut it down for 10 minutes, can I learn to shut it down for a whole day? Can I learn to shut it down for a year? I feel like it might be so liberating to not care what other people feel that it might be addictive, like nicotine or cocaine.

As I said, fear of conflict has paralysed me. So I know that while I value empathy, my own ability for it is overly muscular. But I just don’t know what the right balance is. And I hate it. It’s one of my greatest failings.

13 thoughts on “Conflict

  1. I also hate conflict and those awful ‘gut feelings,’ but I’ve learned to stay calm and stand my ground in most conflict situations. The ones I find difficult nowadays are when they come seemingly out of nowhere, or someone tries to ‘trip me up.’ Still, it’s always good to take a step back and breathe.

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  2. You are not alone in this you know. Even after spending thirty years as a cop, I still hate dealing with conflict. It can tie your guts in knots and stop you behaving calmly. I used to always search for the compromise, but sometimes there isn’t one. There is just right and wrong!

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  3. My friend, you are not alone! I don’t think there is a person alive who gets the conscious thought, “Hmmm, I wonder what kind of conflict I can start today?” It’s good to have conviction of your principles and it’s right to stand up for them. I am quick to anger internally, but I seldom show that anger externally. I take a few deep breaths and then ask myself some questions: Do I think this person is open to listening to ideas other than their own? Will the person or thing I feel I need to stand up for change as a result of my conflict? (in other words, will this change anything?) Those questions and answer make me calm. Often times I just walk away. When I can’t make myself walk away, I remind myself that arguing only puts me on the level of the person I’m confronting, and I state my point as clearly and concisely as I can and end with, “This discussion is over and we will just have to agree to disagree.” Then I come to my blog and vent it all out here!

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      1. It took a few years of attempt and many failures along the way, but now, when the urge gets me, I just simply remind myself that this person is not worth me spending my time and energy on because they are clearly tunnel-visioned and won’t listen anyway, so why waste my breath. Learning to take care of yourself in that way is liberating. Besides, like I said, we have our blogs to turn to when we need to get it out!

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