Having confidence to resolve conflicts is an important part of the process. There are myriad reasons why you might lack confidence when faced with a conflict: fear, discomfort, previous negative encounters, lack of skill, knowledge, or experience, etc. Let’s look at these issues and how they affect your ability to effectively manage conflict.
Recognize the signs of low self-confidence. When you’re not confident about dealing with conflict, you tend to doubt your abilities, second-guess yourself, and be hesitant about trusting your own judgment. You also might be pessimistic about a successful outcome which, in turn, gives you an excuse for not engaging in the first place. Be aware of when these kinds of negative thoughts arise because they often can become a downward spiral, reinforcing your initial belief that you can’t do it. Replace “I can’t do this,” with “This may be difficult, but I will try to do it.”
Don’t let fear lead to avoidance. You may be like many people who dislike conflict because you’re afraid of it. Perhaps your experiences with conflict in the past have not ended well, and so your tendency is to shy away, not engage the other person, or just plain avoid any kind of conversation or confrontation. Most experts agree that avoiding conflict is one of the worst responses you can have because the possibility of resolution is completely cut off from the start, and, more often than not, the conflict will only get worse, not better. One strategy to try is to start small and “work your way up” to a conflict with wider implications. In other words, force yourself to initiate discussion about something small just to get practice for other, more significant conflicts that might be on the horizon. “Practicing” in this way not only gets you out of your old pattern of avoiding, but it also builds confidence for the future as you begin to experience the positive results of working through a problem more collaboratively.
Prepare in advance. So much of how a conflict is handled determines the outcome. When do you choose to talk? Where is the discussion held? What words do you use to convey your message? What tone do you use? All of these are issues to think about ahead of time so that the conditions surrounding the conversation are conducive for a beneficial result. Actually practice what you’re going to say either by yourself or, even better, role play the conversation with a trusted friend, coach, or colleague. Then when you’re in the real conversation, you’re calmer, more relaxed, and better prepared to respond to any number of reactions from the other person. Again, feeling prepared and in control leads to confidence.
Think through the consequences of not having the conversation. Although it sometimes seems easier to avoid conflicts, there are all kinds of negative ramifications of not addressing the issue. If you really analyze these drawbacks, you’ll probably be persuaded to take a different approach. With non-action, the situation remains stagnant and nothing improves; even worse, it could steadily decline and become even more damaging over time. Another disadvantage to not addressing the problem head-on is that you can become an easy target for people who are more aggressive or manipulative. On the Conflict Dynamics Profile®, “Yielding” is considered a Destructive scale because, as with “Avoiding,” it is a response that fails to engage others directly in an effort to resolve conflict.
Keep emotions in check. A lack of confidence in conflicts often generates strong feelings because your sense of security or need for respect or intimacy is threatened. Your tendency might be to react very strongly or simply shut down. It’s important to be in touch with your emotions and be able to notice when you’re getting heated. Be careful of the words you use, try to get all the facts, and be respectful at all times. Remember that dealing with emotions in a healthy way can lead to greater understanding and trust.
Develop skills in the conflict arena. Nothing improves confidence like additional training. Whether it’s reading a book on communications and practicing on your own or participating in a more formal training program, the more you learn, the more confident you’re going to feel. “Stretch” yourself by setting goals that are challenging, but achievable. Seek feedback on an ongoing basis so that you can continue to grow in your proficiency and self-awareness.
Celebrate your successes. Though painful at times, the little steps you take in addressing conflicts provide a real opportunity for growth. You will see that facing disagreements can strengthen, not damage, personal and professional relationships. Recognizing the small achievements along the way helps motivate you to behave similarly the next time.