Overcoming Conflict

Nona Rosa, CFP®, ACC, CLU®, CASL®, ChFC®, Manager, Practice Consulting
February 8, 2019

We all face conflict. Whether it is conflict with our children, our parents, our spouse, our employer or other people we work with, at some point if your life, you will experience conflict. 

Conflict occurs when we perceive that one or more of our values, needs and or aspects of our identity are being challenged, threatened or undermined by another person. According to research done in the area of conflict management, disputes and conflict are inevitable, and the economic and human costs of poorly managed conflict are high. As a result, effective conflict management is now a core competency for leaders in organizations. 

Here is a framework that I use to overcome conflict that I believe can assist your work and personal lives.

Step 1: Pause. It sounds simple, but in practice, it’s easier said than done. The very nature of conflict means that something of ours is being challenged. We naturally will go into flight, fight or freeze. And when you are in “fight”, we say things out of impulse. We are defending ourselves and our values. 

Always remember the tongue is mightier than the sword. By pausing before responding, we are able to be intentional with our words. I will actually say to myself, “Pause.” I imagine that I am hitting the pause button on the remote control. I take some deep breaths, and slow my breathing. Getting that quick hit of oxygen to my brain will help me compose my thoughts and become mindful of my situation –– and my words.

Step 2: Reflect. Reflection is an exercise where we examine ourselves, the actions we took and our values, in order to increase our self-awareness. It gives us a chance to ask ourselves: Have our values changed? Are the actions that we’re taking in line with our values?

The best coaching conversations that I have are where the client increases his or her own self-awareness. Self-awareness leads to the ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment. It is key to understanding ourselves better, being at peace with who we are and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. In a study conducted by Cornell University examining 72 executives and public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion, it was found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predicator of overall success. Reflection is a powerful exercise. One of my favorite reflection exercise is the movie theater concept. For this concept to work, you must imagine that you are sitting in the audience watching your story unfold on the big screen in front of you. What do you feel by watching the conflict as an observer and not participant? What reflections of yourself, your values or your actions did you notice?

Step 3: Action. During conflict, it’s natural to react to the situation. But by using the first two steps – pause and reflect – we allow ourselves a chance to regain control over our impulses and become more self-aware. Now that we have paused, regained control over our words and actions and examined our perspective and those of others, the next step in overcoming conflict is action.

We are now ready to take specific action towards a specific outcome we desire. We may only have one choice of action that we can take, but more often than not, we actually have a variety of action steps that we could take to lead to the desired outcome. Having choice and options empowers us to overcome conflict in a way that we would not have without first pausing and reflecting.

Step 4: You. You can’t control someone else’s actions. To be successful, it’s important to hold the reins of our own personal achievement. The outcomes you set are for you and controlled by you. No one else is responsible for the success or lack of it.

We all will encounter conflict. The next time you experience conflict, remember to PRAY (Pause, Reflect, Action and You) to grow, develop and challenge what you believe to be true. Of course, we are not perfect. We still may do something that we later regret, look only at our needs and use excuses not to take action. However, be quick to apologize and forgive and to move past with a resolution to understand and to be understood.

Early on during conflict, I was quite sure that I was right until I took the time to think about how I thought, and realized that I wasn’t. I could hold on to my values or use the conflict to grow into something better. I choose to grow. And I hope you will choose to grow as well.

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