We recently escaped the brutal Arizona desert heat with a road trip to San Diego. Paradise, right? Fog in the morning, beach temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, beautiful scenery and stunning colors, and an enormous number of vehicles displaying Arizona plates vying for parking spots! I expected peace and quiet, yet what I experienced nestled in this supposed utopia was… conflict. Conflict all around me.
A young family in the restaurant battling the cries of their kids. At the beach, young people were arguing what bathing suit was the sexiest (someone tell me when thongs became the norm on beaches!!!), and at the hotel swimming pool where a couple held hands coming in but stormed out 30 minutes later. As you know by now, in relationships, in families, at work, conflict is ever present. The goal is not to avoid conflict, but rather to embrace and grow through it.
In his book Take the Stairs, Rory Vaden shares how cows and buffalo react differently when storms roll off the Rocky Mountains heading east along the plains of Colorado. The cows try to outrun the coming storm and end up running with the rain, wind, and elements. On the other hand, the buffalo run towards the storm somehow knowing that this approach will get them through the difficult weather faster.
The lesson is obvious; meet conflict head-on in order to get past it sooner. With intentional listening, compassion, and words sprinkled with grace and truth don’t try to ignore, procrastinate, or put off dealing with conflict at home or at work. Be proactive like the buffalo and run towards the storm; in that way, you are strengthened to develop meaningful, productive relationships with those around you.
Some tools that I have found effective when running towards the storm to get through it faster are:
1. Knowing that the storm is fast approaching, be actively thinking of how to open the conversation. “I’ve noticed recently that you have been late in meeting the deadlines we agreed upon. This is out of character for you.”
2. Knowing that, without storms in our lives, there is no real growth. “I know that we can work through this and in the end, it will make us stronger as a team and as an organization.”
3. Knowing storms are temporary, look for the light through the rain and clouds. ”I see and understand your perspective. Let’s look ahead through this and dream of what we can accomplish.”
4. Knowing storms will come again, don’t get too comfortable. “I look ahead to our future challenges because they will give us new opportunities to deepen our commitment to our shared goals.”
After spending my first 19 years in Seattle, Washington, I grew to love our storms which brought rain, wind, and numerous challenges, for I knew that when my conflict with nature had passed, there would be a crisp freshness to the air and life would seem filled with new meaning. Let’s take this same view as we move toward inevitable conflict. Let’s not be like cows running away from the storm – let’s follow the example of the buffalo who meet it head-on.
In the meantime, I am shopping for a new throng to wear for my next visit to the San Diego beaches!!!
Thanks to my friend and colleague, David Towne, for his insightful look at conflict and how to get through it. I often counsel my clients to stop avoiding conflict and begin welcoming it as a means of clearing the air and creating deeper levels of trust in their personal and professional relationships.
Do you have any tips you would like to share about how you learned to manage conflict? What do you believe is the biggest roadblock to meeting conflict head-on?
(Now, if you will excuse me, I need to call David to ask him to please reconsider the thong!)
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.