If your natural tendency is to avoid conflict then you probably often choose not to speak up to “keep the peace.” When you do that, however, you trade in your well being for that of others. You also stop others from getting to know the real you. In the long term, you’re likely to feel resentment against the very people you’re trying to keep happy.
I was an expert at avoiding conflicts
I once read somewhere that, as an older sister of three brothers, my natural style of communication and leading is to do so “without ruffling feathers.”
I couldn’t agree more.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been averse to conflict. Actually, “averse” is the wrong term. “Terrified” would be more correct.
I was so good at avoiding conflict that you couldn’t start one with me if you tried.
Looking back, I can see a number of reasons why this was the case. First, I used to believe that nothing good would ever come out of conflicts except pain and suffering.
Second, and this is as a result of the first point, I was never able to think clearly in a conflict.
My brain would shut down and anything that I may have been planning on saying, stuff that was neatly written down on a piece of paper the day before, instantly evaporated from my mind. At that point, not wanting to cause any drama (and embarrassment) I’d “stay quiet to keep the peace.”
The four main issues when you “keep the peace”
Over the years of “keeping the peace,” however, I noticed that four things invariably happened.
#1 - I traded outwards peace for inner war
Anyone who has even been in this situation knows that keeping quiet to avoid a conflict usually starts a war inside your mind. Whatever you were not able to say out loud is repeated incessantly in your mind, along with imaginary dialogues of what the other person would have said, and what you would have answered back. These conversations never lead anywhere but trigger all sorts of negative emotions, from frustration to outright anger - over and over again.
#2 - I normalised self-abandonment
Making these choices normalised the fact that other people’s well being and peace of mind was more important than my own. Even though I didn’t consciously think this was the case, my actions were saying so and therefore reinforcing this belief, which would then spread to other areas of my life. By choosing not to speak up in difficult situations, it became harder to speak up in other situations too.
#3 - I mislead others about who I really am
By avoiding conflicts, I mislead many people into making wrong assumptions about me. Staying quiet in situations I did not agree with misled others into believing I did agree, or at least that I didn’t disagree. They would think “she’s fine with this,” “she doesn’t really mind,” or “don’t worry she’ll be okay she’s easy going” etc. When in fact, this was not at all what was going on in my head. But they didn’t know that. How could they, since I kept quiet?
#4 - It all comes back to bite you on the bum
I eventually realised that keeping the calm only ever worked as a short term fix. Despite my best efforts, I felt resentment again myself for not speaking up. I also felt resentment against others for putting me in this situation.
Also, most situations that I have “kept quiet about'' eventually resurfaced. People discovered that, in fact, I was not okay about it at all. It was after too many “But why didn’t you say so at the time” that I decided it was time to change my strategy.
Emotions serve your belief system
I used to believe that it was better to avoid difficult conversations. Because of that belief system, my body automatically went into fight-or-flight mode every time I was in, or about to enter, a difficult conversation. As a result, I couldn’t think properly. I forgot everything I wanted to say. My emotions made a mess of it all.
When your body enters fight or flight mode, your body temperature increases as the adrenaline starts rushing. Your muscles get tense and the less important systems in your body shut down so that all the energy can be diverted into the key areas you need to survive: flight or fight.
The less important systems include your digestive system (hello upset stomach!) but also, and you’ll know exactly what I mean, clear thinking!
In other words, it is completely normal that you are unable to think clearly when you are emotional. That is how your brain is designed to work. It is worried about keeping you safe. Keeping you safe, in its old caveman way, doesn’t include having access to the carefully crafted arguments that you put together the night before.
When I realised that, I realised I needed to transform how I viewed conflicts and difficult conversations.
“Difficult conversations” is a point of view
If you’ve grown up associating difficult conversations with stress, anxiety and hurt your mind and body will naturally want to escape it. Your emotions will kick in every time you’re about to enter a difficult conversation and tell you to RUN.
But you can consciously change the beliefs you hold about difficult conversations. When you transform that belief system, you will also transform the emotions associated with it.
Whether you decide a given situation is a conflict one depends on how you look at it. You can look at two people arguing and focus on the disagreement part. Or, you can decide to focus on what can be achieved.
Today, I see difficult conversations as the opportunity for others to know me better, and for me to know them better too. Today, when I enter difficult conversations, I want to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I want to give others a platform to do exactly that too.
I have transformed my belief system about difficult conversations and conflicts. I don’t see them anymore as “either I win or I lose” but “what’s the best way for both of us to feel better about this?”
Instead of focusing on keeping others happy to my detriment, I think of ways for all the parties involved to feel better. I put my efforts into allowing us to understand the situation at hand better so that it doesn’t come back to bite all of us in the bum later!
When you transform what you believe difficult conversations do, you will be able to handle them much better. Instead of the fight-or-flight mechanism kicking in, which shuts down your clear thinking and pushes you to focus on staying safe, your problem solving mechanism will start operating. You’ll see difficult conversations as an opportunity to solve a problem - and keeping quiet as the best way of maintaining that problem.
What beliefs do you hold about difficult conversations?
Breaking down the belief system you hold about difficult conversations will help you.
How were difficult conversations handled when you were growing up?
Were people encouraged to speak up and calmly express their emotions?
Were people encouraged to listen to each other?
What are you really afraid of when it comes to difficult conversations?
For you, what are the good things that can come out of a difficult conversation?
Use the answers to the questions above to break down any limiting beliefs you may have about difficult conversations. You can then transform these beliefs into helpful ones.
You tend to avoid conflicts and difficult conversations because of the negative emotions associated with them. Your emotions tell you to avoid them, and so you do. Just as I did. By transforming your belief system surrounding difficult conversations you can change the emotions that kick in. When you break down the belief system behind difficult conversations you will start seeing them, instead, as an opportunity to improve relationships and solve problems. This is the key to getting your emotions to work with you instead of against you.
Do you want to learn to use your emotions, instead of letting them use you?
Are you tired of feeling subject to, a victim of your emotions?
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