5 Steps for Dealing With Conflict Dread

Let’s be honest, you dread conflict, don’t you? If you do, you’re like most people. In fact, very few people relish the idea of facing a conflict. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the dread you may feel when facing a conflict situation.
1. Acknowledge your underlying fear and anxiety. Conflict elicits powerful emotions in the conflicting parties. These emotions must be acknowledged and managed if you are to effectively deal with the situation. What about this conflict makes you feel anxious and fearful? By acknowledging the emotions you experience, you empower yourself to take control of the emotion and to respond constructively.
2. Identify the threat. We all have hot buttons that make us very fearful or angry when pushed. When someone says or does something to trigger our hot buttons, we quickly and emotionally react to protect ourselves, our identity, our values and our beliefs. These threats may cause you to take aggressive action or to run away from the dreaded conflict. Ask yourself, when my hot button was triggered, why did I have such a strong emotional reaction? (e.g., “I felt I had been treated unfairly” or “I felt my reputation and credibility was unduly questioned” or “I believe my authority was being challenged.”) Clearly identifying the threat(s) will help you gain control over your dread.
3. Check your assumptions. When someone triggers our hot buttons, we often make false assumptions about their motivation. For example, we may attribute negative intent by assuming “they are trying to get back at me” or “she doesn’t like me, so she goes behind my back” or “he wants to look good in front of the boss, so he does things to make me look like an idiot.” Instead, take a step back and ask yourself, what are the other possibilities for why this person acted the way they did? It could be they felt their hot buttons were being pushed, and therefore reacted in a destructive manner.
4. Take deep breaths. One important technique for gaining control over your emotions is to take deep breaths. When our brain senses we are in danger, it kicks into survival mode. Activity increases significantly in the emotional part of our brain causing the fight, flight or freeze reaction. These reactions are a result of strong, negative emotions that protect us from the threat we perceive in others. Taking deep breaths slows the brain’s emotional center and helps us shift to the rational part of our brain where we can make better decisions and respond constructively to the conflict we encounter.
5. Keep a journal. Journaling will help you identify your emotional triggers and develop strategies for managing them. Capture the following in your journal:

   <li>What was the conflict situation and who were the key parties involved?</li> 
   <li>What exactly did the person say or do to trigger your strong emotion (i.e. did they say a certain phrase, raise an eyebrow, or dismiss you)?</li> 
   <li>What was the emotion(s) you felt (i.e. anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, fear)?</li> 
   <li>What did you say to yourself about their motives (i.e. they wanted to hurt me, s/he is selfish, they don't care, etc.)?</li> 

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