All of us, at some point in our different relationships, are going to come across conflict. We live in a complex world, where different types of conflict are present at all levels. It’s inevitable – conflict is bound to happen in every relationship, whether it’s personal, business-related, or even just between acquaintances. 

A lot of the time, when we foresee conflict or sense a challenge coming in conversation, we automatically seek to avoid it. Sometimes we’re required to step in, but we don’t want to, and we try to deflate the conflict as quickly as possible. Sometimes we can disengage entirely, and we choose to do so because that’s the easier route. But what we don’t often talk about is that it costs us to avoid these kinds of conversations. When we choose not to step into these situations, there’s significant fallout. In fact, something inside us withers and dies if we avoid those conflicts often and long enough. In a sense, we lose part of ourselves. 

If we don’t nurture and foster our ability to navigate conflict, we start avoiding relationships altogether – even those that are normally relatively conflict-free. 

And not only do we lose part of ourselves, we end up losing the gift of other people. When we engage with those with whom we disagree, we learn and discover new things. Each person is a gift. When we avoid conflict, we unintentionally miss out on receiving and learning from their unique gifts. 

So, the question is: rather than avoiding, how can we choose to navigate and engage in these conflicts in an empowered way that brings ease and full presence? 

The problem stems from the fact that we’re never taught, as children, the skills of discussion. This is especially true regarding conversations with people we disagree with, and with whom we know we disagree. We need to learn – or relearn – as adults, the skills of discussion and conflict resolution to empower us and aid us in engaging in healthy conversation. 

The learning process starts with understanding that every human being is fundamentally good.

One of our foundations at COR is that we are all fundamentally good, despite our imperfections. This of course includes any person you find yourself in a challenging situation with. But when we avoid conflict long enough, it reinforces suspicion of our essential goodness. It introduces doubt about our own goodness, and about the other person’s goodness, and it creates in us a sense of cynicism about the world in general. 

This is what’s at stake if we choose not to engage in conflict.

The other thing at stake is that we sell ourselves out. You have a specific gift to give others, too. You have thoughts and perspectives, and something to contribute. So when you decline to engage in conflict, for whatever reason, in a sense you sell part of your own soul. You sell out your goodness, you detach, and as a result you don’t get to be your fully creative and generous self. 

Everyone wants to be heard

The solution here is to realize that in any conflict, we all have the desire to be heard. It’s the feeling that fires us, that engages us in any conversation and makes us feel it’s worth it to converse with another. 

We all have a deep desire to be “gotten”, to be heard and understood in exactly the way we mean. And that often means that we hold our own thoughts and perspectives as exclusively “true” or “correct.” And we want to “win our case” by blowing the other person out of the water with our feelings and judgments. 

Underneath all that surface-level functionality, though, is a real, honest desire to be heard. To get to share our perspectives, to be allowed to enlighten the other person and show them our point of view. 

Listen first

Here is the counter-intuitive step: if you want to be able to expertly and efficiently navigate conflict, don’t share your perspective until you’ve first listened to the other person. In any situation where there’s a challenge, always listen first. Seek first to understand the other person before insisting that you also be understood. 

This is a perfect example of taking the high road: understanding that the other person has that same desire to be understood and heard, and providing them the courtesy that you yourself desire from them.This moves us out of the attack dynamic, that Survivor Self way of functioning, and into healthy active listening.

Conflict resolution begins with active listening.

You may have heard this before, but active listening isn’t just nodding along or verbally affirming the other person in conflict. Active listening is choosing to actually hear the other person, not to just let them speak or say words like “yeah” or “right” where prompted. 

What active listening does is take us out of the theoretical. It lets you get underneath the surface thought, or the driving ideology of another person, to understand what they are actually trying to say, what they want and what they need. 

I can assure you, from my experience, that this first step of active listening is a powerful one. And because it’s counter-intuitive, it’s not the behavior we default to. It’s a skill that must be learned, honed, and practiced. 

If this speaks to you, and if you want to learn more, then I invite you to join us for our next COR Leadership Classroom. We offer some of the skills from our COR leadership training program in a free, 90-minute format. Check it out here: