Lately, I feel like I’ve been frustrating to everyone around me.
And lately, everyone has been frustrating me.
Unless you live in a cave, you’ll have those seasons where relationships—professional and personal—become disconnected and, well, frustrating.
For me, connection with my work, connection to my people, and connection with God are some of the most important factors of my contentment in life.
And in my experience, since frustration leads to anger, which leads to disconnection, which leads to fear and depression, which leads to laziness and stagnation… frustration, ultimately, can lead to my business death.
Sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the benefit of having a little self-awareness. I see the domino effect and nip the frustration in the bud.
I do a lot of things poorly (juggling, flirting, dancing, etc.) but one thing I excel in is self-awareness. I know myself pretty well, and I’m getting to know myself even more as time goes on.
As a business owner, you’re the leader of your team. Since emotional health starts at the top and trickles down, whether healthy or unhealthy in its display, it’s crucial that you pay attention to it. Emotionally unhealthy leaders create emotionally unhealthy teams who make emotionally unhealthy companies.
Self-awareness and emotional health are one of the most indicative measurements of a great leader. As the Huffington Post reported,
“In order to manage our emotions effectively, we have to identify them, be able to assess them accurately, understand the root cause, and ultimately control them appropriately. Knowing what the triggers are that drive our emotions as well as understanding triggers of those around us can truly heighten our ability to communicate more effectively.
Conflict is inevitable and actually a positive because it usually leads to progress when handled well. Being able to read the people dynamics, assess the needs involved and manage the situation effectively requires high EQ levels.”
You can’t be in business without conflict, period. You can try, but you’d be an ineffective leader. And understanding yourself better means you can understand others better.
Back in 2010, I sold my Nikon camera gear on Craigslist because I was converting to Canon-ism. An interested buyer named RJ and I had an email discussion about this sale.
RJ: Do you still have this?
Me: Yep, sure do.
RJ: What’s your number so I can text an offer?
Me: How about you email me your offer? Good chance I won’t go down very much.
RJ: That’s probably the reason you still have it. GO F*** YOURSELF!!!
Me: Hey why don’t you relax? I just put it on the market a few days ago and I’ve had plenty of offers. Geez.
RJ: GFY!! The over price s*** is old!!! You’re the idiot that started with “it’s not going any lower!!” So again GFY!
Me: Do you have some stress management exercises you can work on? Who are you really angry at?
RJ: You know what? The more I think about it, I don’t know what got me so mad!! I have been taking this testo ripped stuff testosterone increaser so maybe I need to cut down so the only thing left to say is sorry!
It was straight out of a movie! My point is this: If you really seek to understand why you do what you do, and why others do what they do, you’ll start to approach conflict by asking yourself (or even verbally asking out loud), “What’s really going on here?” Why am I really reacting this way? Why is this person really saying this?
For me, I am transitioning from fearing and loathing conflict into Phase Two: appreciating its benefits. I know there is freedom and improved relationships on the other side. Once I fully appreciate the benefits, I can finally move into Phase Three: understanding and learning more about it.
But appreciating its benefits and understanding conflict isn’t enough. I can read a thousand books on conflict resolution but if my heart and intentions haven’t changed, I can’t into Phase Four, which is welcoming conflict and eventually sliding into Phase Five, considering it a skill to be mastered of which you intend to master.
If we stay in Phase 1 at all times, we can’t truly lead our team well.
5 Phases of Mastering Conflict Resolution
- Phase 1: Fear and Loathing
- Phase 2: Understanding the benefits
- Phase 3: Understanding conflict resolution
- Phase 4: Welcoming conflict
- Phase 5: Mastering the skill of conflict
Am I an authority in conflict resolution? Ask my roommate who watched me break down in tears a couple of weeks ago after asking me to clean the stovetop burner protectors.
No, I’m in phase 2.5. I want to be good at it and I’m starting to understand it. Do I welcome it? Heck no, not yet anyway. But I’d like to.
I don’t do conflict well because (sorry, mom) our family didn’t/doesn’t do conflict well. My siblings and I were victims of growing up without a father due to brain cancer. Young, angry kids who didn’t know how to communicate usually resulted in physical blow-outs.
And the truth is, the majority of us weren’t ever taught how to have healthy confrontation and conflict resolution.
For some of you, you learned the hard way: explosions, silent treatments, gossip, passive aggression, resentments, etc. And when you did finally confront someone, it didn’t end well. Lost friendships, resentment, anger, violence, silence, fear, or dishonesty.
It’s understandable why we’d want to avoid it at all costs.
But leadership doesn’t allow the convenience of skirting the responsibility of resolving conflict. In fact, owning a business means you’re the new mediator of your team and most importantly, yourself, whether you like it or not.
You’re the one peacefully, calmly, articulately…
Talking your client off the ledge of breaking their contract
Helping your manager know how to communicate better with other employees
Explaining to your new, sensitive employee that they need to step up their game
4 Reactions to Conflict
You see, you can do 1 of 4 things when you’re met with this challenge to get better at conflict. You can:
- Fear it: Curl into a ball and hope it goes away, feeling victimized
- Fight it: Become aggressive, resistant, and angry
- Ignore it: Deny that it’s an issue, run away from it, become passive aggressive
- Own it: Jump headfirst into it and decide to get good at it
As business mentor Fabienne Fredrickson said once, if you’re not good at something, simply get good at it. We tend to overcomplicate the notion that we can change.
Steven Covey said it best.
“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.”
And guess what? The first three reactions to conflict isn’t manly or sexy or cute or funny. It’s time for all of us to put on our big girl and big boy panties on and grow up (self-encouragement too).
This is the same kind of self-awareness and courage you need to really tackle your finances, your marital problems, a broken friendship, or even going to the dentist.
This isn’t a fun skill to learn, but a necessary one to become a really great leader. And the hardest part is that it may take a few decades to get really good at it. Don’t expect this to be an overnight change, because it will take an intentional, long-term commitment to learn this critical skill.
May I suggest a few ways to get started on this horrible, awesome journey of being a better leader?
If you’re rolling your eyes, don’t leave yet! Just hear me out!
Taking a couple key personality tests and asking your team, family, and friends to take them as well is the first step to really understanding yourself and understanding others.
I’ll give you an example. On the Enneagram Test (my personal favorite), I am a solid 4: sensitive, introspective, honest, creative, moody, personal.
My right-hand woman/Operations Manager is a strong 8: powerful, self-confident, decisive, confrontational, and assertive.
Our 4/8 combination is described as the most “volatile” combination.
Before we put the two things together, we drove each other crazy in the first six months of working together, as you can see why. But after we realized our unique struggle, we both became much more understanding of each other. We worked more efficiently because we didn’t get caught up on one another’s quirks.
She could tell when I would start to get overwhelmed in intense business conversations and shut down, and instead of pressing on, she’d back off and suggest that we pick up the conversation later.
When she’d feel excited or intensely passionate about a change in operations, I listened with my guard down and an open mind instead of instinctively clenching my fists and accepting it as aggression.
Understanding ourselves and one another is the very first step of stopping conflict before it starts.
Blood Types and Conflict?
I’m sitting in Three Brothers Coffee in Nashville, Tennessee writing this right now. I was at Crema Coffee for 15 minutes before driving here.
The reason I left Crema and annoyed my roommate who came with me? Because I’m Type A+ blood type.
Let me explain.
According to Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo, “Type As have a naturally high level of the stress hormone cortisol and produce more in response to stressful situations.” But it was a cool coffee shop… How was that stressful?
I’ll keep going.
“The following factors are known to increase cortisol levels and increase mental exhaustion for Type As – be aware and limit your exposure when possible:
- Crowds of people
- Loud noise
- Negative emotions
- Strong smells or perfumes
- Too much sugar and starch
- Violent TV and movies
- Lack of sleep
- Extreme weather conditions (hot or cold)
Crema was extremely crowded, the walls and floor are concrete so all of the sounds reverberated and caused a very loud environment, it was really hot in there, and I was stressed trying to have a conversation on the phone.
Instead of forcing it for a couple hours and becoming hostile without knowing why, I let her know that my “mayday signals” were subtly going off and I had to retreat to a less crowded, cooler, quieter, less stressful environment.
I’ll be honest, I feel like a big fat baby sometimes now that I’m very aware of what triggers make me react. But ultimately, I’m able to be the best version of myself because I know how to take care of myself—meaning, I will be much more pleasant to my roommate for the rest of the day because I spared myself of that situation.
Side note: if you find yourself in a situation where you’re being triggered like I was, you can find a much smoother way to communicate it. And ya know what, the Japanese take blood types very seriously.
Other Factors to Consider
I would be dishonest if I tried to persuade you that I was a conflict resolution pro, but in my research over the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve noticed a few simple questions that have helped me in my quest:
Does the person you’re having conflict with have ADHD/ADD? Learn the challenges of those with adult ADHD/ADD and you’ll quickly see how that can affect conflict and confrontation.
Are you aware of their past before this moment? Did they come from an abusive home? Do they shut down if your voice is raised?
If you or the other person hates conflict, consider where and how you talk. Perhaps taking a walk, petting an animal, or outside or sitting by a fire with a glass of wine would help.
Has the person had a stressful day and at their wits end? Perhaps waiting for a better time would be wise.
Have they recently had a lot of conflicts lately? Is it important enough of a topic to bring up right now?
Are they a typical first-born? Middle child? Youngest in the family?
A couple great books that have helped my emotional growth in this area:
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The Speed of Trust
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0
- Telling Yourself the Truth
- The Bible (just sayin’)
- Codependent No More
- Boundaries for Leaders
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
- The Emotionally Healthy Leader
- The Gifts of Imperfection