Address Conflict Like Removing a Bandaid

Judy and Carrie run a creative marketing agency for startups. At the end of last week, they were copied on a cranky email from the startup’s lead investor expressing his displeasure in how the company was marketing itself in the world. He basically criticized everything they were doing, but didn’t call out Judy and Carrie out directly.

So the ladies were left with a dilemma: Should they respond or not? If yes, then how? They knew that the CEO and other C-suite executives really liked the work they had done. So the most logical scenario was for those people to step in and defend Judy and Carrie. The two women decided to wait.

After about a week, no one had responded to the email. Judy suggested that this could mean the CEO felt the same as the investor about their work. Of course it also could mean he hadn’t seen the email. Either way, Judy suggested to Carrie that they not mention it to him, and avoid any confrontation.

Luckily for Judy, it’s not in Carrie’s nature to let anything like this lie. “Won’t you feel great when we bring this up with them and they react in disgust and tell us again how much they love our work?” she said. Carrie convinced Judy to bring it up in their next meeting with the CEO.

Typically on calls it’s Judy’s roll to lead, so she started off by bringing up the email. Within the first sentence, she could hear herself fumbling over her words. Her heart started beating widely and her palms were soaking wet. Recognizing she was not equipped to handle the conversation, Judy handed the reigns over Carrie. “Taking over, she was brilliant,” said Judy. “As we expected, they were appalled that the investor would write anything like that and vowed to handle it with him.”

From the experience, Judy realized that by addressing the conflict head on, she saved herself the stress of having this question looming over her head, about whether or not her client felt the same way as the investor. Before, Judy was allowing the seeds of doubt she already held – about her work performance and being good enough – to drive her to avoid challenging conversations. It dawned on her that by hiding from confrontation in the past, she had allowed her fear to whip her into a frenzy, obsessing about what the client might actually feel, and causing her a lot of undue stress and worry. “Usually, I’d spend weeks obsessing with the problem, until life forced me to deal with it,” she explained. “Now, I can see the benefits of getting it over with immediately.”

Handing the potential conflict quickly allowed Judy to relax and put the episode behind her – something she’d never experienced before. The reward of the positive outcome to conflict fueled her and inspired her to handle the next situation quickly, which of course happened with another client two days later. By walking directly into that confrontation, she and Carrie neutralized it and were able to move on with their work and their lives.

When you address something quickly and directly, you get to the heart of the matter and prevent your subconscious mind from using it to fuel stories you already have about yourself. By meeting conflict head on, without emotion, you can stop the victim cycle of “me versus them,” and bring your conscious and subconscious minds into sync with what is real and true. You can get to clarity and resolution faster, and shift from feeling stuck to moving forward.

What’s a tough conversation you’ve been avoiding lately? What’s keeping you from having it? How’s that avoidance feeding into a story you have about yourself and your life? Now, go out and have that conversation and get it over with!

“Tell the truth sooner, have more fun per hour.” — Steven Cervine

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