Managing Your Fear of Conflict

ConflictThis blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s, Leslie Kolb, MSW. As we continue discussing ways to manage fear, there is one thing many of us fear without even realizing it: conflict. Do you find yourself avoiding situations where there might be a confrontation or argument? Do you find yourself acquiescing to another’s needs just so you can maintain the status quo? Do you ever feel as though you have to “walk on eggshells” around your partner so as not to cause an argument? If so, you might be doing everything in your power to avoid conflict. You might ask, “What’s the harm in that? I don’t like arguing or fighting.” Certainly most people do not seek out or enjoy conflict, but avoiding conflict can be at the expense of having our own needs met. For example, if you find that you only feel heard if your partner gives you his or her undivided attention during a conversation, do you express that need? Or do you allow your partner to multitask or use their smart phone while you talk? If the latter is true, do you feel as though you weren’t heard? How does that affect your feelings toward your partner after you have finished your conversation? Chances are, you feel unheard and feel as though you have not been cared for in a way that feels good to you. Not getting your needs met can result in a slow, sometimes unnoticeable build of resentment toward others. You might not even realize that resentment is building until it is unavoidably affecting your relationships. You might lash out at your partner in anger. Or alternatively, you might shut your partner out, punishing them with a cold shoulder. But your partner may be confused by your reaction, because it is in response to a behavior that your partner has been repeating for an extended period of time, with them having no idea that their behavior was bothering you. It might seem obvious, but this is why communicating your needs is so important, even in the face of conflict. So how can you manage your fear of conflict and begin to more effectively communicate your needs? The first step is to pay attention to your own needs. Sometimes we learn to avoid our own needs so well that we do not even recognize when a need is not being met. Start paying attention. Using our previous example, if you notice that after talking with your partner you feel resentful or angry, it might be helpful for the sake of the relationship to communicate that feeling, or at least ask for a change in your partner’s behavior to avoid it. If you can become more mindful of your own needs, you might find that you are more willing to communicate them despite your fear of conflict. Next, start practicing, especially in circumstances where you feel what you’re asking is perfectly reasonable. For example, if your coworker constantly leaves his dirty dishes right next to your desk and you would like him to stop, try thinking through a few kind ways of asking him to put them in the sink or dishwasher instead. When you find a method of asking him to change his behavior that feels reasonable to you, go ahead and use that method. Over time, as you see positive results and your wants and needs being met, you might find that you feel more comfortable confronting people about things you want. During this week, consider what needs you have that are not currently being met. Are you ignoring them in order to avoid conflict? Try practicing asking for what you want, even if it is something small. You might just get it!

Elana Clark-Faler
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