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.