Conflict is a natural and inevitable part of relationships. Disagreements are often a catalyst for growth, and fresh perspective. Dealing with conflict in productive ways can lead to greater connection, better understanding and improved productivity. Whether the conflict arises at work, home or among friends, there are two dangerous traps that many of us fall into. As you read on you may find that you have a tendency toward one or the other of these ends of this spectrum. For now I will call these folks at the extreme ends of the spectrum Steamrollers and Houdinis.
The first trap that many of us fall into when experiencing conflict is to respond to the other person or issue in an overly aggressive manner. Many people attempt to avoid conflict by steamrolling over the other person or people. Sometimes this is done for the steamroller to get his or her way. Sometimes this occurs because the steamroller is unwilling to think creatively to come up with solutions. Steamrollers also have a tendency to be overly sensitive to criticism. If someone feels that the only options are steamroll or be steamrolled he or she may prefer to be the one doing the rolling.
The other trap that many of us fall into is passively disregarding our wishes, desires or preferences. The trouble with this is that this response to conflict often results in bitterness, anger and resentment. These Houdinis may be so uncomfortable with conflict that they would rather disregard themselves and vanish than experience the discomfort and anxiety of conflict. Some Houdinis are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or making someone else angry. Sometimes Houdinis are reluctant to share their views because they are afraid of being thought of as stupid or wrong.
Where do you fall in the spectrum? What would others say about you and your style of dealing with conflict? I invite you to consider with me what might happen if we could all move toward the center of the spectrum. What would happen if the steamrollers could become more open to criticism and willing to work cooperatively and creatively toward solutions? What would happen if the Houdinis, rather than vanishing in the midst of conflict, could become a bit more assertive in expressing their views? I don’t mean to oversimplify the intricacies and difficulties of conflict. But I can’t help but wonder if moving toward the center would be a beneficial starting point.
Do you know anyone who manages conflict well, someone able to reap the benefits of conflict without becoming a steamroller or a Houdini?