48: Embracing Conflict for the Sake of Building Better Relationships

by Jen Barna MD | Podcast

“Constructive conflict is kind of like how diamonds are formed by a little bit of pressure. Sometimes when we’re in a group and we’re pushing back against each other’s ideas and saying, ‘Yeah but,’ out of that comes new and innovative ideas, something fresh.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

In today’s episode, Coaches Gabriella and Jill sit down to talk about dealing with conflict. Many of us avoid conflict. Why? Because it’s downright uncomfortable. But having those uncomfortable conversations can sometimes lead to growth and other positive things. If nothing else, we learn from it. Tune in to hear how to be the leader of your life by dealing with conflict, getting out of your comfort zone and having courageous conversations. 

Resources from the show:

The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage by CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Excerpts from the show:

“Gabriella, why do you think it is that some of us dislike conflict so much?” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

“It’s uncomfortable. I mean wouldn’t that be the thing? That most of us just want to feel at ease and feel safe and feel comfortable. Conflict means that you have to step out of your comfort zone and deal with the elephant in the room and that is not always a comfortable place to be. So yes, most people will try to avoid the conflict. Now what I’m learning about conflict resolution at this point, is that it’s important to kind of pick your battles. Are you going to spend your time arguing with someone over a parking spot? Where does your energy in terms of conflict resolution go? Again, from what I’m learning, it has to do with the relationship and how important that relationship is to you and how invested you are in finding a solution that works for both. So the first two things so far are, step one, step out of your comfort zone and be ok with being uncomfortable, because there’s no resolution without discomfort. And number two, do you have a vested interest in that particular interaction and that particular relationship to go the extra mile to really see if you can find common ground? What do you think Jill, what have you learned?” -Coach Gabriella Dennery

“Well what I learned that was helpful to me a few years ago when I was co-leading some leadership development stuff in a Fortune 50 company was this idea of constructive conflict versus non-constructive conflict. I was like, ‘What do you mean constructive conflict? There’s never a time when it’s good.’ Which somebody who can be conflict avoidant like me believes. And I was able to understand that constructive conflict is the type of conflict that has the purpose of embracing different world views and encouraging people to think differently. Constructive conflict is kind of like how diamonds are formed by a little bit of pressure. Sometimes when we’re in a group and we’re pushing back against each other’s ideas and saying, ‘Yeah but,’ out of that comes new and innovative ideas, something fresh. There’s all kinds of reasons and we’re not going to get into tons of psychology around it. But you know some of us who are conflict adverse maybe lived in a home where there was a lot of conflict and it didn’t feel safe to you or you observed at some point in your childhood that people were in conflict and that created some trauma around it. So I’m not being glib or unkind when I say that it doesn’t feel good to us. I’m just inviting us and our more wise adult Self, you know the part of us with the capital S, to recognize that a lot of times adults can have differing opinions and different world views. And if we create a container to let that conflict be a little bit constructive, some meaningful things can happen. Like clarification of issues, learning more about each other and considering new ideas. So that’s one of the things that comes up for me, what do you think about that Gabriella?” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

“As always, I agree. I like the idea of constructive conflict and not so constructive conflict. I think that’s a brilliant point. Conflict does create a realm of creativity and new ideas and new possibilities and again it’s the willingness to be uncomfortable and go down in those spaces. And as you bring up, it’s ok to disagree. It’s ok to agree to disagree. Sometimes that’s the end of the conversation. We agreed to disagree but that doesn’t mean we’re at each other’s throats. So that would be one aspect of conflict resolution, sometimes it’s time to walk away but with the agreement to disagree. Depending on how complicated the issue is, it can take several conversations. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. So are you invested in making those conversations happen? To go from avoidance to, ‘Ok, let’s deal with this. Let’s move into a territory where we can say, this needs to be resolved. Let’s sit down and hash it out.’ It may take several conversations in several settings to do that but it’s necessary. The last thing I wanted to add, Jill, is that it’s easy to get all hyped up about a conflict. To get reactive about a conflict. It’s easy to point fingers and blame. Especially when we’re in those kinds of reactive spaces. At the same time, good conflict resolution from my understanding really has to do with looking at one thing at a time and trying not to pile on a bunch of different things. ‘But you said. But you did.’ As opposed to, ‘Let’s deal with one issue.’ Again, I’m not an expert in this at all. I’m still learning about it and the question is whether or not it’s a better approach to look at one topic at a time as opposed to trying to resolve a whole big pile of stuff. Just start with one thing, what do you think about that?” – Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

“I think it’s brilliant. And again, Adam Grant, who does some really great work in organizational psychology, says when somebody else gets defensive or aggressive then biologically we go right into defense or aggressive mode as well. So then what happens a lot of times my default is to turn into the prosecutor. ‘Let me give you all the reasons,’ right? And I’m prosecuting my case to win. So when I can recognize that I don’t need to pile on the prosecution, I need to go, ‘Ok, let’s go back to this one point, take a deep breath.’ Right? A lot of times when we’re in an activated emotional state, that’s where we are reacting without thinking and we’re not responding. So one of the things I like to think about in conflict resolution is that emotional agility thing. I can still have my feeling. I’m not stuffing it down. I can even say I’m a little irritated right now or I’m triggered, I feel frustrated, take a deep breath and say, ‘So let’s talk about this point. I hear you saying X’. Reflecting what the other person says can be another good way in a heated conversation. ‘I hear you saying this, this is how that makes me feel, this is how I experience that and I have a different idea.’ A lot of times it’s just slowing down the back-and-forth where we just start flinging things at each other, so that we can have a little more space and a little more of what we would describe as a meaningful or courageous conversation and not just another petty argument where we’re talking in the same circles. Sometimes it can help us later on even if we said something that we wish we didn’t or we had one of those, ‘Oh gosh, why did that happen?’ moments. It’s ok to ask ourselves what the other person felt threatened about, just be curious, like you’re an anthropologist, and ask yourself what was happening in that situation. And then for yourself, what was feeling threatened for me? For me, a lot of times it’s the ability to be right. I don’t like being threatened by that. And then I can be like, ‘Oh you funny little person Jill, once again you’re trying to be right.’ And who cares if you’re right? What if you can both be right? How do we make space for that? So those are ideas I think that can help us when it comes to conflict. And I think you and I are both proof that sometimes even though we don’t love conflict, we both have had experiences of being willing to have those courageous conversations and what we would describe as a little bit of that constructive conflict. And moving through the resolution there, can be some of the benefits from it as well.”  -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer

Get One-on-One Coaching with Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

Get One-on-One Coaching with Master-Certified Coach Jill Farmer


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