This is the Most Common Mistake People Make When Dealing With Conflict – And How to Overcome It

November 19, 2018

We all tend to make this mistake when dealing with conflict.

I’ve done it many, many times. And, if you are being honest, you’ve probably done it too.

We disagree with someone or have some sort of conflict with them. They might not even be aware the conflict exists – but, in our mind, they are the enemy.

And so, what do we do? Talk with the person and figure it out, so we can put it behind us?

Often, we do the exact opposite. We start assuming what they’d say if we actually were to talk to them – and dissect the insanity of their assumed logic. And that causes us to avoid talking to them at all, because we question the use.

Of course, while its very common to do that, it isn’t particularly healthy. Instead, Executive Coach Marlene Chism suggests doing the exact opposite.

“It's so easy to fall into gossip and present our assumptions as absolute fact,” Chism said in her LinkedIn Learning course, Having Difficult Conversations. “But we do ourselves a disservice and block our potential of successfully engaging in a difficult — yet productive — conversation.”

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Marlene Chism details a mistake to avoid when dealing with conflict.

A Better Way to Handle Conflict: Be Curious, Instead of Presumptive

Chism covers the whole process of having difficult conversations in her course. But, according to Chism, a few best practices to follow before going into any difficult conversation are:

    1. Actually go to the source of conflict.

This is the last thing many of us want to do and the mistake we make most. When we get into a conflict with someone, we usually talk about it with everyone but that person.

It’s okay to vent to a friend or talk through the issue with a coach first. But ultimately, going to the source is how to resolve the conflict, despite how much you resist it internally.

“No matter how much others confirm your experience, your real opportunity is to communicate with the person with whom you have the conflict,” Chism said.

    2. Manage your narrative.

Our brains, if left unchecked, have a tendency to focus on the negative. That applies to conflict – our instinct, sadly, is to tend to think the worst in the other person.

To avoid this, you need to proactively manage the narrative inside your head before going into this conversation. Rather than thinking the person you are conflicting with is acting maliciously, be more pragmatic and self-referential: “I need to find out what happened so I can fix it.”

    3. Be curious.

Along those lines, don't approach a difficult conversation thinking you'll already know what the other person will say. Instead, approach the conflict with an open mind, eager to learn why the other person acted that way.

“Being a know-it-all closes off possibilities,” Chism said. “If you think you already know someone's motives, you won't try to understand them.”

If you do these three things before having a difficult conversation, you vastly increase your chances of resolving the conflict in it. 

Want to learn more? Watch Marlene Chism’s full course, Having Difficult Conversations. Videos within that course cover: