Why We Suck at Conflict

Most people know the “right” way to approach other people. When sitting down, with a clear head and no immediate pressure, most people can come up with a way to have a conversation or even address something tricky that will likely lead to a good outcome. On paper.

In practice, however, it’s a totally different situation. People get into arguments about the simplest of ideas and relationships are broken down over issues that should, with clearer heads, be easily reconciled.

With a little training, perhaps some suggestions from a good book, or some help from a friend, figuring out how to navigate a conflict is often not that difficult of a task. There is no shortage of good advice and scientifically backed strategies for dealing with conflict.

There is, however, a huge shortage in practice. We are so trained to avoid conflict, and to find comfort, that we ignore opportunities to get better at handling it in an effective manner. In our constant hope that we won’t have to deal with it, we miss the chance to prepare for it and perhaps become more effective at it.

The brain works very much like the muscles in your body. If you use them, build them purposely, and give them challenges on a consistent basis, they become much more flexible, strong, and able to deal with the “stress” of physical challenges.

The regions of your brain needed to effectively deal with conflict work in a similar manner. If the Lymbic System experiences healthy conflict (mutual respect, objective, and non-personal, etc.) on a consistent basis, it sort of builds the muscle in your head that says “hey, we are going to live through this so we likely don’t need to go into freak-out mode and say stupid things.” Which is a good thing to develop, cause the Lymbic system is excellent at creating the short-sighted responses that make us so bad at healthy conflict.

Simply knowing how to deal with conflict is not enough, just like knowing how to lift weights doesn’t magically make you stronger. We suck at conflict because we don’t practice. We avoid the smaller differences and are surprised when our brain does not have the built in strength to deal with the bigger issues.

If you don’t want to be bad at it, you have to practice it. The little battles, the smaller disagreements, or, if you really want to get a proper work-out, practice having a mock argument over a real issue with someone on a consistent basis. We only suck at it because we don’t do it. It’s not a lack of ability as much as a lack of effort.

Your Plan is Going to Fail

Things are going to change. Your projections were off. The thing you thought was going to happen, didn’t. The account that you were going to get never pans out. The job that was a sure thing, isn’t. The economy softened, the economy strengthened. What was left is now right and what was right is now left. You couldn’t predict the future.

If those things put your plan at risk, if the unexpected changes in the market, in other people, or in the hopeful anticipation of some event in the future are what will make the difference between success and failure, then your plan is likely destined for failure.

But that’s okay. Because everyone’s plan is dependent on those things. Success is most often a surprise. The path from here to there never goes as predicted.

Whether your plan outlines the strategic direction of your business, the potential direction of your career, or the future direction of your personal finances, if you want to weather these failures then your plan must be disproportionately dependent on one thing. The person or people implementing it.

Any plan that has, as its primary focal point, the unique skills, talents, and abilities of the individuals in charge of following through has a much higher chance for eventual success. When failure happens, and it will, then survival is based on those individuals’ ability to apply their talents to a new situation, to use their unique skillsets in a different way, and for their natural ability to shine when given the opportunity to be expressed in an original way.

Knowing your plan is going to fail is a great advantage. It can force you to make the success dependent on the things you actually control. More importantly, it can help build anticipation that the potential of the individual or individuals involved with implementing the plan will likely be utilized. And, most importantly, it promotes that exciting idea that, when you do succeed, it will look nothing like how you planned.

Can People Change?

We don’t seem to be very good at change. We all want to, yet the majority of us run through cycles that start with big attempts, followed by doubt after a couple set-backs, then complete inaction or regression over time. This process leads some to believe change is not possible. A belief that kills dreams and stops action before it even starts.

But, what if it’s the wrong question? What if, for most of the things we are trying to do, become, or attempt, we don’t need to change at all?

Change, by definition, is to “make or become something different.” For most people, the thought of becoming different, is a deal breaker from the start. It’s scary, it seems foreign, and history does not seem to be on our side. Yet, most of the “change” I have experienced in my own life, or helped other people with in theirs, has very little to do with becoming something different.

In many cases, people aren’t changing at all, they are adapting. And adapting is something people are really good at. People adapt to changing environments, requirements, and challenges all of the time. They battle cancer, they raise kids with little or no money, they learn to thrive after horrible accidents, and they make the best of really crappy situations. Every one of us has had to adapt and every one of us has been successful at it.

The reason we do this so well at adapting is because the focus is the exact opposite of how most people view change. When you talk with someone that has had to adapt to something challenging, they often say things like, “I didn’t know I had it in me!” or “I didn’t know I could be so strong!” They say things that indicate something being drawn out of them, about finding out who they really are, and not about them being something different. The difference is form not being.

This same process happens when people adapt their current talents in new directions. A consistent smoker becomes a consistent runner because they focus on adapting there proven habit of consistency. A passionate advocate becomes a passionate salesperson because they adapt the passion they already know is available. And the most hard headed, pain in the ass employee, becomes the most dedicated and driven manager because they adapt the underlying grit in a new direction.

Can people change? Who cares? They can adapt, and we can help them do that, but only if we are willing to draw out the strengths they already have.

Can you change? Who cares? You can adapt your underlying strength, your unique genius, and your individual passions to whatever direction you want. But only if you are willing to recognize them and bring them out.

We fail at “change” so often because we continue to try be someone we aren’t instead of realizing, and drawing out, the greatness that is already within. Start focusing on what is within and you might just find outcomes that look a lot like change on the outside. Only you’ll know the secret. The greatness was there are along.

Plotting Your Come-Back

All of us have set-backs, times in our lives when things don’t turn out as planned. We lose jobs, fall short of goals, or find ourselves off of the path we originally intended to follow. When this happens, we can often start to believe that we need to create a whole new plan, transform ourselves completely, or make entirely new goals.

However, if you are currently in this position, I will ask you to pump the breaks for a second. Before you go out and re-write your entire professional or life plan, consider the idea that you might not need a total life transformation, you might just need to plot your come-back.

People in the midst of a set-back can be pretty hard on themselves. Their brains seem to focus only on those things that they did wrong, decisions they regret, and perceived shortcomings. They say things like “I shouldn’t have done this.” ” I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure.” And, with these thoughts, they go about the business of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and attempting to start over with a clean slate.

This tendency, based on the brain’s expert ability to pick up on threats, is not only inefficient, it is often very ineffective, setting the person up for yet another set-back. It can be demoralizing and frustrating, because it feels like everything you did before was for naught.

It doesn’t have to be. If you are willing to see your backstory as the set up for the exciting future instead of the last steps before a tragic ending. Creating a come-back story is not only more effective, it’s also more exciting.

In a come-back story, what you went through simply prepared you for the big win you might not yet see around the corner. The come-back story doesn’t throw out the past, it uses it to design the future. In fact, a come-back recognizes that, without the challenges of the past, the future would not even be possible.

Instead of thinking “I shouldn’t have done this,” a come-back focus would say, “this gave me the skills for something, I just have to be open to what that is.” The same with not being good enough or a failure. Come-back stories see those as “I know more about what I’m uniquely good at” and “I had the courage to try something challenging.” When plotting a come-back, all past experiences simply add depth to the story, they make it more interesting, and provide clues to the future.

What past events have provided insight for your next breakthrough? What superpower did that rough experience give you that you can now use in the world? How are your goals the same as they were before, even if they look and sound a little different? These are the questions that build a great come-back story and the answers can help you plot your next steps.

We all have set backs. Those challenges are what makes a good story. So, instead of throwing out the book, keep writing, things are just starting to get interesting. Your past story may have all the information you need to create amazing future chapters. The next chapter is much easier to write than an entirely new book.