I love that old song “everybody was kung fu fighting” the CeeLo Green version to be exact. It is irresistible; I have to dance in my living room Kung fu kicks and all.

However, the same cannot be said of me when it comes to ‘fighting’ in real life.

I hate conflict. Actually, I am afraid of conflict. To quote the song “In fact it was a little bit frightening” is very true for me.

I am a coach and work with individuals and leaders to help them unlock their potential. That means exploring and helping them change beliefs and release fears that are getting in the way of them achieving their goals. So, I am attempting to coach myself because my fear of conflict is how I getting in my own way.

I have been aware of my own fear for a long time. And I have also been aware of the limitations and loss it has caused me professionally and personally. Certainly, as a younger woman working in a male dominated industry I missed out on opportunities and stayed invisible by not putting my views out there, especially if they went against the grain.

In personal relationships I feared speaking up in moments of conflict; Afraid of causing anger or of losing the relationship.

Usually the conflict conversation I should have had out loud is conducted in my own head often at 3am in the morning. This is really not helpful.

Positive conflict can create deeper connections and better understanding between people. It can also allow others to better understand your boundaries, values and beliefs. Positive conflict teaches people how to treat you. In organisations healthy conflict leads to more creative solutions, better outcomes and more resilient teams.

Even though this is still a work in progress I would like to share with you some of the steps I have taken to work on my fear of conflict.

There is a little pre-work required:

First, is to understand why you have this resistance to dealing with conflict. I figured out that I have a particular strong set of influences that contribute:

  • In the Big 5 personality test I am high on agreeableness this naturally makes me avoidant of conflict.
  • I went to all girl’s catholic school and being nice was the absolute foundation for being a good catholic girl.
  • My family dynamics meant that I was the keeper of the peace; the quiet one who helped.
  •  A while ago I did a probing leadership assessment as part of my coach training that looked at my core beliefs and apparently staying safe in relationships by complying to others was a key driver of my behaviour. (avoid conflict)
  • Fun Fact: I am Canadian and ‘being nice’ is actually part of our national identity.
  • Another fun fact is that my star sign is Libra and according an on-line astrology “this sign hates conflict”.

I have absorbed all of this and wired it into my inner operating system. Make no wonder this is so hard for me to change.

Second, is to be deeply self-compassionate with yourself as you set out make change. This is hard work, it is deeply wired and there will be set-backs.

Now a few tips on how to deal with conflict positively:

  • Prepare yourself: Notice your own emotional response and just be compassionate about it. Say to yourself “ I am feeling angry or annoyed right now” or “there is fear here’.  Just naming it helps to tame it.
  • Become curious: Ask yourself what can be going on with this person. Ask the question “I am curious …what do you mean by that? One of the biggest pitfalls is that we jump to our own conclusions about someone else’s intentions. Stay open to other possibilities. Seek to understand.
  • Share the impact: If someone’s behaviour or words are having an impact share that from the first person. For example: I felt unheard or not valued when you said or did …(be specific). Be vulnerable. Listen to their response and acknowledge them.
  • Look forward: Communicate your needs or the outcome you want. Be clear on what you would like in the future.
  • Honour yourself and the other party. Conflict is a normal part of human relationships and it takes courage to do it well.

I have committed to doing conflict well in my life. I have even enrolled into a beginner course on Aikido which is known as ‘the thinking man’s martial arts’ as way to explore this topic from a different perspective.

This quote from Susan Scott’s book Fierce Leadership really sums up why this matters to me so much:

“Remember that what gets talked about and how it gets talked about determines what will happen. Or won’t happen. And that we succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

Or as the song says:

Everybody is Kung fu fightin
Your mind becomes fast as lightning
Although the future is a little bit frightening
It’s the book of your life that you’re writing

Leah Sparkes is a Leadership Development Coach, EQ / Mindfulness Teacher and Blogger based in Sydney, Australia