Pursue What Matters
Episode 187: Practical Parenting with Kimball Lewis
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Does conflict freak you out? Will you go along just to get along? Well join me on this four part series to build some skills to help you take a stand on things that matter.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:14
I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So I have a question for you. Are you conflict avoidant? Well, if you are, you’re not alone, right, we live in a time of heightened conflict. So research shows that currently in American society, we have more political polarization and conflict than in many other countries. Now, if you follow the news, or you’re a political junkie, that news probably doesn’t surprise you. But what do you do in response? Do you find yourself jonesing for a battle? Or do you find yourself fleeing? Right? So you might find yourself really fleeing conflict in response to everything you are? You’re seeing around you, or like I said, maybe you’re jonesing for a conflict. So cultures, such as the USA and Israel tend to value assertiveness and tolerate moderate abrasiveness to achieve personal goals. So if we think about our continuum of, you know, willingness to, you know, to tango and to address concerns, US Israel, we we have a pretty high level of that, as compared to other cultures, such as many Asian cultures, we think about Thailand, Japan, and China, they tend to view conflict as both unpleasant and undesirable. And so, you know, you might be in America and find yourself feeling conflict avoidant. And yet, if you were in one of these other Asian cultures, you might really be surprised at the lengths that they might go to, to avoid conflict. And there can be some problems with that, right. So today, we’re going to really be talking about both, you know, the, the challenges of conflict, because it’s not all good, but also the benefits of healthy conflict. So, you know, generally American culture has a reputation for being assertive and aggressive in communication. And this really goes with our values around competitive competitiveness, and freedom of speech being highly respected.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:48
So it’s totally reflected in TV shows that you might see there are a lot of TV shows in America that have high levels of verbal conflict. So think about sitcoms, you know, people are kind of sparring all the time. And studies show that Americans tend to be more assertive than Koreans, the Japanese, but also like the Finns, so folks from Finland and so it’s interesting to kind of pay attention to these cultural differences. And for you to think about your own experience. And if you recognize, gosh, like I tend to be conflict, avoidant, what do you understand about that for yourself? Right? So do we have a cultural component, whether that is, you know, the region or the country that you live in, it could be the culture of your family, what is the background of your family, these can really inform our understanding of our own approach to conflict. And of course, you know, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence lead. And so this reflection about where you land with conflict can be really helpful for strengthening your confidence to lead. We try to do that in one of three areas. So leading with clarity. So where are you going? And why does it matter leading with curiosity, and this is really the self reflection and self awareness that I just mentioned, and then leading and building a community. And what we’ll learn today is that there is a place for healthy conflict. And it does help you to strengthen your teams to build a healthy and thriving community. Because if you have a team where there’s never any conflict, that’s a recipe for failure. And so this week with the podcast, we’re trying to help you strengthen your communities, right, strengthen your teams, but also helping you to build in a little more self awareness about your relationship to conflict. So let’s jump right in with our first point, which is a question I have for you can conflict be healthy? Now if you’ve been listening, I’ve already basically answered that question. Sure. So first of all, it’s important to keep in mind that conflict and disagreement are a fact of life. Right? They are facts of life. There’s just no getting around them. Because we’re all different people with different life histories, different opinions, different perspectives. We’re not perfectly rational, rational, right? So you can’t say, Okay, if we, you know, we agree to these objective truths, even even if we agree to objective truths, we might not agree on the conclusions or on the next steps. So it would be totally unrealistic to think that spouses or teams or friends would agree on all things. And yeah, I think when we are conflict avoidant, that is the hidden assumption that we put on our relationships. And so then if there’s disagreement, if there’s some conflict, we can really freak out, because here, we violated one of our assumptions. But the problem is not the conflict, the problem is the assumption. So you know, unless you have a shared brain with someone else, you should probably disagree with them from time to time. And that is, that’s normal and healthy. And I think the, you know, when it comes to conflict management, the key is really in how do we address conflict.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:15
So there’s a whole bunch of us out there that don’t handle conflict very well at all. And, and, you know, whether that’s because of anger, or outbursts, or placating, and so we kind of get stuck in a pattern of conflict avoidance becomes our, you know, the only tool that we have, and then we wonder why our relationships are kind of at a standstill. So, you know, I want you to think about, you know, what happens when disagreement or conflict comes up? If you are conflict avoidant, right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:50
So you know, do you bury your concerns? Do you explode? So do you rage? Do you? Do you throw a fit? Do you burn bridges? Do you label the other person and say, We just can’t agree on anything? You’re an idiot? You’re stupid. I can’t work with you. Right. So what do we do in response to conflict? Right? Do we bury the conflict? Do we explode? Do we burn bridges? And I can tell you, right, as a leadership coach, I do a lot of leadership trainings where you know, not only in my coaching work, do I work with teams where we’re working on, on addressing concerns directly, and respectfully, but I also go into organizations, and do you know, comprehensive, pretty intensive leadership trainings to really help them to skill up? And I can tell you, it’s always one of the top two concerns when I asked leadership teams and organizations like, what are your biggest challenges, conflict avoidance is always one of the top three, I would say it’s usually one of the top two, if not the number one concern. And so teams really see that it is a problem for them. And what they recognize what I’ve learned from them, is that they’re not tackling the challenges that they face. They’re not tackling them directly, and having the conversations that they need, they shelve them, they kick the can down the road. They talk about people instead of talking to people and addressing concerns. And so certainly what I’ve seen in doing leadership training for a lot of organizations is that they want tools to help them address conflict in healthy ways.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:40
Because for many of us, we’re pretty intimidated by conflict, it kind of scares us a little bit. And we don’t really know what to do with it. And so, you know, what we tend to do is we just try to avoid it. But we, you know, for the most part, even if we’re falling into that trap, we recognize that that’s not a good plan, long term. And so, you know, I’ve certainly been heartened to see teams who are really, you know, they have a really strong desire to develop the tools to help them address conflict in healthy ways. And so I want to talk to us a little bit about John Gottman.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:13
So I’ve talked about him quite a bit, because his research is so compelling. So he’s done, I think, 35 to 40 years of marital research. And the thing to remember is that his research is applicable to other relationships. So you can think about this with your teams. You can think about this with your colleagues that works. Of course, think about it with your partners at home, your loved ones at home. And so, you know, he asked he asked people what was the number one predictor of divorce so you see a couple What, what’s what’s the most worrisome sign that would be a predictor of future divorce, and almost everyone right, but respondents he’s asked this for for so many years, and the number one Answer is whether a couple argues so right. Even with that answer that number one answer from people, we see that there’s some real trepidation and concern about conflict, that conflict is a problem. It should not be happening in a happy or a successful marriage. But this is what Gottman found. And his it’s one of the reasons his research is so compelling. It’s a little bit counterintuitive. And so he found that, that, that that number one predictor of divorce that people thought, which is whether a couple argues was totally false, right? Like that is not the number one predictor of divorce. But this is the truth. This is what he found that the number one predictor of divorce is how a couple argues, right? So the fact that you will have conflict in a marriage or in a relationship or on a team is kind of a no brainer, because you have more than one brain, in the room or at the table or in the bedroom. And so it’s it’s really not that conflict is a problem, but it’s how we respond to conflict. What do we do? Do we bury it? Do we explode? Do we burn bridges, right? There are all sorts of ways in effective ways that we address conflict. And often that’s by not addressing it. And so the key really is, how does a couple argue? And then how do they repair? So after the conflict, are we able to move forward? Or do we hold grudges? Do we continue to other the other person? And so you know, we we really want to keep that research and that perspective in mind, as we think about conflict. And in answering the question is, can conflict be healthy? And the answer is absolutely, yes. But it depends, right? It depends on how we respond to that conflict, how we repair, we also really need to pay attention to our intent with conflict, right. And so maybe, maybe you’ve been in a situation where you can see someone’s coming at you and they do not have good intent for you. Right? Like they’re not trying to understand they’re trying to prove a point. They’re trying to assert power over you. They’re trying to, you know, puff up, because they’re on a stage or something. And obviously, those are not, those are not good situations to be in, and it works really wonderfully to shut us down.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:26
So when we think about what’s your intent with conflict, right with thinking about healthy conflict, you know, some of the good intents include addressing a disagreement, hey, we do not see eye to eye here, we got to we got to figure something out to make a decision, right? conflict comes up a lot in the course of making a decision because there are no perfect decisions, you often are making decisions in uncertain conditions, right? You don’t have all the information you need to make a really well informed decision, but you still need to act. Anyway. Another great intent is to find a way to move forward productively. Right. So we’re probably not going to agree. But how do we move forward productively without resentment without frustration, versus right, some of the bad intent, when it comes to conflict is we are there to exert power, right power over the other person, we are there to get the advantage. We are there to shame or blame someone. And I hope you haven’t been on the receiving end of these situations, but that they can be so toxic, and they can just they can lead to so much fear when it comes to teamwork when it comes to relationships. So obviously, your intent really, really matters.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:42
So to our first point, can conflict be healthy? And the answer is a resounding yes. So recognizing that it can be valid and important. The next point is to focus on how we can address conflict. productively right, that is possible. And we want to help you have those tools at your disposal. So that takes us to our second point, which is that we want to aim for conflict transformation, not conflict resolution. Now, stick with me on this because I’m not just subbing one word for another, there’s really solid research, helping to clarify the difference between conflict transformation and conflict resolution. So first of all, when it comes to conflict resolution, this is what most of us were taught, right. So whether that was growing up, whether that was in school, whether that was at work, that our goal should be to resolve conflict, right, like we need to settle things down. We need to make sure we all get to agreement or to consensus. And the research shows us that that’s not helpful. It actually leads to poor decision making. And so when we focus on conflict resolution, the goal is often consensus, right like we Want to all agree, but this is often at the cost of problem solving. So we’ll all get to consensus, but we will have a very poor decision, or we will have very poor problem solving. And so we really undermine ourselves when we seek after consensus and resolution. So conflict resolution also feeds conflict avoidance, because it’s not about problem solving and understanding, it’s actually about how to how do we, how do we get rid of the conflict. But in the course of making decisions and taking on challenges, there’s going to be conflict. And so if our highest priority is to avoid conflict, we’re just not going to be able to face challenges, effectively, we’re going to be less successful and less productive.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:50
The other problem with conflict resolution is that teams fail to dig into tough issues, every time you get to something that’s Prickly, or, you know, difficult to talk about. Teams just tap out, they avoid them. And sometimes there’s even a structure for avoiding it. One of the common things that I hear is we’ll follow up on that next week, and next week, never ever comes right. And that is an effort to often to lower the temperature, right, because it’s like, oh, like this disagreement is making me uncomfortable. And so maybe the powers that be are or by consensus, the team agrees that we’re going to we’re going to push this issue often tell next week, and that’s really more about not being able to tolerate the distress of the disagreement. And so then they wait for the temperature to lower and they never go back to the issue. So you don’t actually solve your toughest issues. Conflict Resolution also actually leads to less psychological safety. Because you’re left to guess at the subtext, you’re left to guess what, what isn’t being said, because the priority is on conflict avoidance, the priority is on consensus. And if someone disagrees, they probably don’t feel very comfortable speaking up about that. So you’re left to mind read you’re left to read between the lines to figure out what’s going on, that makes teams less psychologically safe, right? When we have psychological safety in place, we can be genuine, we can talk about concerns, and there is a certain amount of trust and being able to do that, it doesn’t mean that our ideas won’t be attacked, or challenged, because honestly, they should be, but we should never attack one another. Right. So that’s an important distinction there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:41
So further, when we think about conflict resolution, it actually contributes to less trust at work, because again, we’re reading between the lines, that the idea here is what is being left unsaid, right. We’re all saying yay, yes, we all agree. But what’s being left unsaid. So when our goal is consensus, there’s a lot left unsaid. And so with this approach, teams punt decision making, right, we’re always putting the decision off down the road. And as a result, our progress stalls so we don’t make the progress that we need to. So we don’t want conflict resolution as our goal. And again, that’s how most of us were trained, whether that’s formally or informally, Hey, come on, we all just need to get along. It’s like, I don’t know about that. Right? That really depends. And it’s, it’s, it’s not to say that we should be fighting all the time. But we need to be willing to tango with the challenging issues. And when we can do that with psychological safety. Our bonds actually strengthen we become stronger as a team, we develop more trust as a team. And so it might sound counterintuitive, but it absolutely does work that way. And so we want you to instead, aim for conflict transformation.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:02
So what do I mean by that? Right? So the goal with conflict transformation is to seek understanding on your way to making a decision, right? So prior to making a decision, you really want to seek as much understanding as you can. You want to know every concern in the room, you need to unearth those concerns. And so that means you need to hear from people you need to hear diverse views. You need to hear what the concerns are, what the questions are. Because those questions, those concerns, those perspectives. If they can be tolerated, right, they will lead the team to stronger decisions because you’re taking things into account. You’re not hiding things under the rug or under the table. And so again, the goal is not consensus. And so when we think about conflict transformation, it leads to much better problem solving because you’re surfacing concerns early on in the process. These concerns are addressed transparently. Right? So we’re not doing those in backhauls, we’re not doing those in behind closed doors, we’re addressing the concerns as a team transparently. So we’re not talking about people, we’re, we’re addressing the current concerns together as a team, with the stakeholders present.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:21
Conflict Transformation also drives effective decision making, while acknowledging concerns because again, the goal is to seek understanding on your way to making a decision. So we have a bias for action. And the thing that’s really interesting, I think about conflict transformation, is that ultimately, once a decision is made, you have more support for that decision, because you’ve gone through a process to unearth the concerns and address them as much as possible. And so everyone has buy in into that process. And so you go through that process, you express your concerns, maybe you write like you, you have a contingency for those concerns, right? Like you strengthen the problem solving as a result of making of having those concerns and discussing those concerns. And so at the end of the day, you still might not be happy with the decision that’s made. But you know, you had a voice at the table, you know, you’ve had input. And so, again, even if you don’t agree with the ultimate decision, it’s easier for people to get on board as a decision is made, because it was a transparent process where they had a voice. And so that is our second point is that we really want to aim for conflict transformation, not conflict resolution. And this is a way that we can manage conflict in a very healthy way, right? So it’s really looking at our response to conflict. And really, we’re shifting the goal.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:51
So it’s not about avoiding conflict, it’s it’s not about getting to consensus, it is really about getting to better decisions. And so that leads us to our third and final point, today when we’re thinking about healthy conflict. And that is we want to get better at navigating conflict, right. So conflict can be really uncomfortable, it sets off a stress response. And so we instead of avoiding conflict, we want you to instead skill up, because what we know is that avoiding conflict will lead to more trouble in the long run, then we’ll developing skills to help you navigate conflict effectively. So you learn to tolerate the distress in the short term, recognizing that this pays big dividends in the long term.
Dr. Melissa Smith 22:38
So from Brene Brown, a great leadership researcher, her recommendation is really helpful, clear is kind, unclear is unkind. So often, we don’t say what we need to say, because we’re trying to be nice, we’re trying to be polite. And it’s not polite, because people don’t get the feedback that they need, they don’t get the direction that they receive. And so her recommendation that clear is kind unclear is unkind, is so incredibly helpful. And it helps teams to raise the tolerance for direct conversations for direct communication, for addressing concerns directly and respectfully. So, you know, a question for you Do you want to sleep at night, if you want to sleep at night, then tackle conflict head on. Because when we don’t tackle our conflict head on, we’re left to ruminate it, ruminate on it in our in our minds, right. So we’re on our own, trying to problem solve a situation that really needs to be done in communication with other people. And so that sets us up for frustration, anger and resentment because we let things fester. And again, like we’re trying to solve a problem in our own mind. That really needs to be solved in communication with other people. And so we’re again, like, our only option is that we’re left ruminating on it on our own. And what’s true is that resentment is the death knell of productive relationships.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:11
So whether that’s at work, or at home, so you need to address the concerns. And then, you know, as we think about getting better at navigating conflict, I have three tasks to help you navigate conflict more effectively. So tune in in the coming weeks, as I do a deep dive on all three of these tasks. So we’re really going to help you develop a lot of good skills to help you to be a little less afraid of conflict and to feel like you have some good skills to help you. And so look to those podcasts in the coming weeks. And now I’ll just end with these three tasks. So the first one is to take responsibility for yourself. Second is to seek understanding and third is to problem solve. And if we can focus on these three tasks, we’re really build a lot of comfort. It’s an competence to address conflict head on. This is for the good of your team for your work for your marriage for your family. It’s really incredibly helpful. And so I hope you’ll tune in, in the coming weeks as we provide you a lot of great skills in these three task areas. So as I review today, we started with we started with the question is, can conflict be healthy? And hopefully you have you have a good answer to that that? Yes, absolutely, it can. And then the second point was, we want to kind of shift our focus from conflict resolution to conflict transformation, I talked about the difference there, the difference in goals, the difference in intent. And then you know, the third point was, we want to get better at navigating conflict. And this really requires us to skill up and identify three tasks that can help you get better at navigating conflict.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:00
And then of course, join me in the coming weeks, as we do a deep dive into each of these. In the meantime, head on over to my website to check out the show notes. With all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/188-healthyconflict. And I’m on Instagram, I’d love to connect with you there at @dr.melissasmith I have lots of resources, additional resources every week related to the podcast. So if you want a review of those three tasks, or if you want, you know, someone to help you make that case for conflict transformation, or maybe you want to talk about that with your team. I have. I have lots of resources for you at @dr.melissasmith. I’d also love to hear what you want to hear about. And if you don’t mind taking a moment to review the podcast, either on iTunes or Spotify. It really helps me to understand what’s helpful for you because of course, that’s what I want to do. I want to bring you helpful information to help you pursue what matters both in love and work. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
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