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Navigate Conflict with Assertiveness

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Conflict is omnipresent and inevitable, lurking within the shadows of each corner along the road of life. It’s unavoidable even when we seek to avoid it. Whether with colleagues or family, in circles professional and personal, varying attitudes and perspectives are bound to ripen to a crescendo at one point or another.

While conflict itself might not define us, how we navigate it certainly does. Our maneuvering through conflict shapes how others see us and—perhaps more importantly—how we see ourselves.

Emotional Intelligence consultant Travis Bradberry notes how we deal with conflict affects both our relationships and our goals. Bradberry points out that to swing gracefully through conflict, we need a particular balance of assertiveness. Do we shy away from conflict and thereby avoid all exercise of assertiveness? Or do we look forward to conflict, hungrily jumping from assertiveness and into the dangerous realm of aggressiveness?

Aversion to conflict empowers challenging people and challenging situations to obstruct the road to our goals, hindering our careers and hampering our growth. However, ardency for conflict can be its own obstruction, pummeling interactions and relationships alike.

In this TED Talk, Kwame Christian, Director of the American Negotiation Institute, echoes advice his mentor once bestowed upon him– the difference between being liked and being respected. Christian discusses how he learned that aversion to conflict, born of his fear of offending others, would only thwart his dreams.

To counter this habit of avoidance, Christian adopted a practice of “compassionate curiosity.” Compassionate curiosity is endeavoring to learn about others, to learn why someone might be upset with a situation. It isn’t about immediately expressing our own points so much as getting someone to explain their perspective, allowing us to explore fecund conversation around that.

Once we learn where others are coming from, we can determine how much assertiveness to exercise. Therapist Darlene Lancer, writing for Psychology Today, conveys the need to include all parties in the solution. Words like “You” invite defensiveness and even resentment. Thus must we approach conflict with a “we” mentality. The bridge towards resolution is woven with webs of collaboration and compassion.

Today, should conflict arise, maneuver through with a bit of “compassionate curiosity.” Swing forth not with a “Me” mentality, but a focus on “We.”

“Where force is necessary, there it must be applied boldly, decisively and completely. But one must know the limitations of force; one must know when to blend force with a maneuver, a blow with an agreement.”
– Leon Trotsky

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