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.

Professional Cruise Control

They call it a plateau. It’s that comfortable place we can get to in our careers or even in our businesses. Things are going well, on paper, and putting things on cruise control is super enticing.


It can also be the most dangerous time any of us can experience professionally. As scary as a set-back or transition can seem, nothing should be less scary than being in a professional plateau. Because, while we try to ignore it, the potential risk that a plateau presents professionally far exceeds all others.


Years ago, in the industrial economy, we could get away with being in a plateau for some time. Industries were more stable long term and jobs stuck around for a much longer period of time. If you were in a plateau, you could survive, your position was probably not going anywhere anytime soon.


Not so today. Stability is not something we get to experience in any industry for more than a couple of years. And the definition of long term employment has changed from twenty plus years to about five in under fifteen. In-demand skills, experiences, and knowledge change faster than at any other time in history.


The comfort we used to look for is irrelevance in disguise. Every moment that we are not challenging ourselves, moving toward what is next, and questioning where our current skill set can meet future needs, the economy moves forward without us. It’s not that we can’t be happy, content or comfortable in the here and now, it’s simply that we have to define those things in the context of learning, of growing, and being naturally inspired by what we are doing right now.


Deep down, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that without that growth, learning, and inspiration, we’re not really comfortably anyway. We were never meant to be on cruise control, it’s not a natural state, and the comfort we think we feel isn’t the actual experience. Inside, the part of us we are ignoring, the one that knows our potential, is screaming, keeping us up at night, and creating a void that cannot be filled with anything but the next real challenge.


Plateau’s are simply the false summits that keep us from experiencing real engagement. We can either lie to ourselves, trying desperately to convince ourselves that we are happy, content, and doing just fine, or we can put on our big kid pants, take a risk, find a challenge, and move forward into that scary and exciting next hill to climb. Both are scary, but only one will create the real comfort, internal and external, that we are truly seeking.

Suffering Fools

People are talking about you. They are making some pretty un-flattering statements, questioning your decisions, and calling you an idiot. You may not have heard it out loud, but I bet it’s in the back of your head.

Maybe you had a new idea, a new plan, something you were going to try out for the first time. Only you don’t, because those people talking about you get pretty loud. And they’ve done it to you before. Made you pause, become overly self – critical, or even drive you into quitting before you even start.

The question is. When the hell are you going to stop listening to them? When do you finally decide that they were the kids who thought they were cool in school, but grew up to be miserable adults criticizing others because they don’t wan to look at themselves? When do you realize that that background noise is being made by people that don’t give a damn about you in the first place and that there are literally billions of other people in the world who at least don’t know you, and that’s worth pursuing more than the judgement of those who think they do?

If you surround yourself by idiots, you are likely to become an idiot. Just as certain, if you continue to let those voices, the real ones, the imagined ones, and the ones that jump out at you from nowhere, run the show, you are likely to become that same miserable person being judge-mental about the progress, growth, and brave steps forward made by other people.

Suffering fools only makes you a fool. People are talking about you, talk louder. They are making some pretty un-flattering statements, questioning your decisions, and calling you an idiot. Double down on your choice, commit even more deeply to your path, and move forward knowing an idiot that tries is much braver than an idiot that doesn’t. Make your voice the one you hear out loud, it’s waiting in the back of your head too.

Escaping or Celebrating

Don’t use the weekend to escape, use it to celebrate.

Escaping is about getting away from everything you are doing, all the problems, the pains in the neck, the crap you have to put up with, and it can kill your motivation. You rob yourself of the energy needed to enjoy the time with your friends, family or hobbies that the weekend allows.

Celebrating is more than just celebrating the fact that you don’t have to work. It’s about acknowledging those things you have done and the progress you have made in all your hard work.

What were the big wins or the things that you doing your job well allowed? Did your kids get to do something? Did you finish a project you had been working on? Or did you make progress on something you were struggling with before?

If you don’t recognize your progress, your job can soon become a never ending march into darkness. It can sap you of energy, motivation and hope. Not because you aren’t making any progress, but simply because you are not recognizing it.

Don’t just work for the weekend, work in a way that makes the weekend.