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Why Having Low Stake Conflict Can Improve Your Relationships

There is a Polish proverb that sums up the way many of us approach conflict: “A good race is better than a bad fight.

As a couples therapist, it seems to me that most people fall into one of two categories: those who enjoy conflict, enjoying the thrill of winning arguments, and those who avoid them as much as possible. If you are in the second category, know that you are not alone.

You may hate conflict or fear it, but you cannot run away from it forever. Conflict is not only inevitable in life, it is also necessary at home and at work. When done badly, you can alienate yourself from coworkers, potential friends, and even family members. When you try to avoid conflict entirely, you may get the short-term benefit of keeping the peace and making people happy, but this comes at the expense of your long-term satisfaction, both at work and at home. .

The wisest approach to conflict isn’t to develop flashy argumentation skills that will leave your opponent (or colleague or partner) speechless. Instead, it’s about developing the ability to negotiate conflict with respect and honesty. And it’s a much more effective type of leadership in the workplace.

People who feel like they are avoiding conflict and want to become more confident in their management style can benefit from learning to engage in low-stakes conflict. Think of low-stakes conflicts as times when there is a real difference of opinion and a decision to be made, but neither you nor the other person is heavily invested in the outcome (which lets you know that there will be no hard feelings).

Watching for these opportunities gives you a chance to practice dealing with conflict. This will likely put you outside your comfort zone, but here are the reasons why it’s worth investing the time in learning this valuable skill:

1. You learn to be honest with yourself and with others.

One of the main reasons some people avoid conflict is to escape the discomfort of being honest with themselves (and others) about what they really want. Unfortunately, not expressing your true preferences openly leads to other means of communicating them indirectly, either by being passively evasive or by being passive-aggressive. These indirect means of communication leave everyone, including yourself, unsure of where you really are.

People who do not know what they want, or do not want to express it openly, are often perceived as impossible to satisfy. Not being direct about your preferences also means that they will not be taken into account when making decisions, which often leads to resentment and the mistaken conclusion that your wishes do not matter. In my work with couples, I often tell people that resentment is a relationship toxin. It slowly builds up over time and ends up poisoning the entire relationship.

At work and at home, being honest requires giving others information about the range of desirable outcomes that you would be happy with. Low-stakes conflicts at home – over things like what to eat for dinner or who will take out the trash – allow you to practice sharing your thoughts on the range of options you’d be okay with.

Offering your real opinion, as far as you know it, can be the start of a minor conflict, but it will allow you to learn to listen to yourself. People who have never learned to pause and listen to what they really want often rely on the mind reading skills of those around them, and then feel ignored in relationships. In reality, if you don’t know what you want, neither can anyone else.

2. You get to know others better.

Beginning by expressing your own honest feeling opens up the possibility of truly asking people for theirs. Expressing an opinion that does not require agreement initiates a more authentic form of conversation. Because the stakes are low, you learn to practice asking more follow-up questions and inviting others to share their preferences. Getting to know others, especially in situations where there is no clear or “right” answer, ultimately improves your relationships.

No matter how this conflict is decided, you now have more information about the other person’s values ​​and how they make their decisions. This makes you feel more comfortable in future encounters and allows you to have more meaningful interactions. Having these kinds of conversations with coworkers at work can also help you feel more comfortable getting to know an intimate partner better. People in long-term relationships often have the mistaken belief that they already know everything about each other, so they stop asking questions or having conversations.

Practicing open communication skills at work, with people you know less well, will make you feel more confident having these kinds of conversations at home. The best part about learning to have low-stakes conflict with a partner is that these types of conflicts often increase feelings of closeness and emotional intimacy.

3. You learn that conflicts rarely win.

People who avoid conflict tend to feel trapped when they perceive the likelihood of disagreement because they view conflict as a win-lose. And neither option looks appealing. Losing the argument is upsetting, but it can be just as upsetting to imagine how the other person might feel if they lose the argument.

Having low stakes conflict introduces you to expansive middle ground where sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t and life goes on anyway.

In other cases, once you are ready to engage in the reality of disagreements, you may find that there are several possible solutions to conflicts beyond either person’s initial preference. This is not about a win-lose, but rather understanding the importance of thinking creatively about how best to identify each person’s needs and find ways to maximize results to meet those needs the most. more possible under the circumstances.

When you understand this principle, you can begin to see labor disputes differently. How something is done may not matter as much as when it is done – or how it may matter much more than when. When you stop treating conflict as a win / lose battle, you can start to become more strategic by focusing the conflict on the one point where you really need a deal.

4. You become a more confident thinker.

Having a habit of having thoughtful and respectful low-stake conflict gives you free education on how to view things from many different angles. You find that you are more able to express what you really think. You really start to listen to how others approach issues. You learn to focus conflicts on the essential points where agreement is important.

As you continue to practice this, you become more adept at expressing yourself confidently in higher stakes conflicts. You will have taken the time to quickly discover what according to you is the best decision and you will know how to articulate the reason, according to the values ​​of the other. This starts any conflict – even a high stakes conflict – with the other person feeling heard, valued and respected. No matter what is decided, this approach will make you come out a winner every time.

5. Others will find you more trustworthy.

It turns out that people balanced in their approach to conflicts, able to express their position but also to consider other perspectives, are highly respected and sought after. You can become known as someone who solicits honest feedback from others, which always translates into better decisions in the office. And at home, your partner can be confident that you are able to say what you want to say in a loving and respectful way, which frees them up to become more confident and to be vulnerable in your relationship. You will no longer be a changing target, which makes you a strong and reliable ally.

Going back to the Polish proverb, maybe we can all agree that avoiding a bad fight is a good idea. But taking a respectful and honest stance while being willing to be flexible takes a lot less energy – and is ultimately more satisfying – than a good race ….

The opinions expressed here by the columnists of Inc.com are theirs and not those of Inc.com.

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