How to Have Tough Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict

If you are like most people on planet Earth, you don’t like conflict. Many of us avoid it like the plague—masterfully escaping it in all its insidious forms.

In all our artful dodging, we must ask ourselves the question— are we really eluding conflict by allowing the underlying problems beneath it to continue? Aren’t we just making the conflict worse by avoiding it? Aren’t we just creating a potentially more hazardous situation in the future by putting our trust in a conflict- avoidant present?

We all want to get better at conflict—but the reality is, the wounds we’ve taken from difficult past experiences beckon us to avoid it at all costs. Still, if our future maturity in relationships and potential career paths are at stake—we must learn to deal with conflict.

It is impossible to avoid conflict in our life and career. The good news—there are tools we can use to face conflict with strength. Not only are there resources available for successfully working through conflict, that conflict can serve as a gateway to deeper, more meaningful relationships and careers.

Here are some insights to help us thrive even in the face of conflict.

When we say, we want to avoid conflict, what we are really saying is that we want to avoid how the conflict makes us feel.

Conflict will come whether we avoid it or not. Like it or not, conflict is all around us. It will only intensify the more we avoid it!

Like Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken,” the most comfortable road rarely gets you where you need to go. The narrow path will be more uncomfortable—but it will lead you to the right places. Often more quickly than you expect!

To get to where we want to go, we must chart a course when it comes to career development, personal development, and even relational development.

How do we get there? The truth is that we’re going to have to lean into something that doesn’t feel good—conflict.

Growing up is difficult. It rarely feels pleasant. In fact, the term ‘growing pains’ is a literal and metaphorical reality for many of us. That is why it is so important to keep the goal in mind. No one likes to wake up early to exercise, but everyone likes how the boost of endorphins makes them feel afterwards.

Embracing growth is difficult—but every time we arrive at a new peak of maturity or clarity, our horizon expands dramatically.

Instead of making the short-term decision to feel good, we want to get better at making the long-term decision to take the road less traveled. This is accomplished through facing conflict and leaning into becoming more effective at difficult conversations.

Growing in emotional intelligence is crucial to success in your life and career.

Study after study proves that emotional intelligence is a crucial x-factor in the lives of successful leading executives— both in who they are, and what they are looking for when promoting next generation leaders.

There are five major components of Emotional Intelligence:

Self-Regulation: Do I have the ability to regulate my thought processes and emotions? Am I managing myself well?

Social Skills: Can I relate well to others?

Empathy: Can I understand others, even if I don’t agree with
them or like where they are at?

Motivation: Who’s responsible for my motivations? Does motivation primarily come from the inside out or the outside in?

Self-Awareness: Am I understanding how what I do and say impacts others?

Are we willing to go on a path to grow in emotional intelligence? If we are—we are going to face conflict at every step along the way.

I’m currently working with a trainer who is very strategic in what exercises he has me perform. He knows how to isolate different muscle groups to work on, and has an arsenal of exercises for each one.

Amid those grueling work-outs, I often wish there was a single exercise to work all my muscles at the same time. If there was just one comprehensive exercise—we would all certainly do it! Unfortunately, in the realm of fitness, this isn’t possible.

With emotional intelligence, it is.

If you want to grow in Emotional Intelligence, tough conversations are the one exercise that works all 5 major components at the same time.

Leaning into the pain and the uncomfortableness will impact so much. It is the training ground where we learn to become more productive, healthier, and happier human beings who thrive in genuine relationships.

Think about the marriage that has lasted 40 years, or the successful business partnership that’s gone 25 years. No matter how amazing two people are, inevitably conflict will arise. And when it did in these examples, they learned to have conflict in a way that didn’t put the relationship at risk—but rather strengthened it.

Of course, in the moment it never feels good! However, we will not bring depth to our relationships without conflict. Make a commitment to choose the road less traveled. You’ll find over time relationships will strengthen—not weaken.

Won’t tough conversations damage relationships?

The undergirding thought process in that question is that conflict puts relationships at risk. Successful relationships learn how to fight in a way that doesn’t destroy the relationship—but builds it.

It is possible to get through a difficult conversation and come to the other side with clear goals met, wounds healed, and the relationship strengthened. However, like working our physical muscles, we must learn when to exercise them and when to rest them.

Work through the tension, and then rest. Fight for greater clarity by collecting puzzle pieces, then take a break. It’s not good for a muscle to stay tight too long.

Pursue using that muscle—the more you use it the stronger it gets. Especially if you have a model that helps you work through the conversation.

It’s hard not to let our past experiences dictate our future, and avoid the conflict altogether. It’s painful when relationships pull apart.

The key insight is that it wasn’t the conflict that ripped apart the relationship, it was how the conflict was handled.

A difficult conversation can feel like a minefield that’s going to blow up in 12 different areas. But it’s also a treasure hunt where keys to unlocking your voice, your confidence, and your future success can be found.

In time, and with practice engaging the model and avoiding the ditches, you will grow confidence in standing your ground and engaging even the most difficult conversations with strength.

If you don’t feel like you have any confidence, it’s not going to suddenly come by avoiding conflict or telling yourself it will all work out without your intervention. Confidence is going to come from learning how to deal with difficulty and getting to the other side repeatedly. Learning how to set goals and accomplishing them relationally is the key to gaining confidence.

Getting to the other side of the conflict will grow your voice, confidence, and self-esteem. Look to the benefit over the cost.

What IS the other side? It is the place where the conflict is in the past, lessons are learned, and both parties can work healthier and more efficiently together in the future. It’s the place where the relationship is strengthened, trust is nurtured, and positive change is enacted.

Conflict rarely feels pleasant in the short term, but the benefits of growing in emotional intelligence and confidence are well worth it in the long run. Take the road less traveled and watch your steps lead you to success.


Want to become more effective at having tough conversations?

Sometimes our conversations don’t play out that well, run off the rails, and people leave feeling demoralized or belittled. We know what it’s like to walk away from a conversation that we are still carrying hours, days, or even years later, which is why we’ve created this FREE resource entitled 15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue.

It will help you start to navigate even the most challenging discussions. Click here to download the guide now!

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