If there is one thing that so many of us dislike and avoid – it is conflict.
It’s not an easy thing, because the emotions that get dragged up are often raw. You sit there stirring away or you can’t sleep at night because you’re playing a discussion over and over in your head from 50 different angles. Just as you get clear on everything you’re going say, you see the person the next day and none of that happens. It can be so disappointing when you don’t get it right or avoid and shrink in the face of the issue.
Conflict is in every aspect of life. It’s at home. It’s at work. It’s with your mates. How you parent. Balancing time, working with the members of your team. It’s the politics, silos and turf wars at work that really drive us all crazy.
But it happens.
Sometimes it’s with your mates – sometimes the old mates – or with your partner on how you parent, how you spend money, where you’re going to live, or how much you can travel for work.
There’s just so many potential causes of conflict, but it is such an important thing because one of the goals of this post is to attempt to normalise conflict and help you to see that it’s a part of life.
It is normal, it is a part of life. It is just there. It’s not whether it’s going to actually be a part of our lives, it’s what we do with it. In general, it’s an opportunity for growth because if you start seeing conflict in new ways it can be so positive.
Greg has learned to reframe conflict as “the path to freedom” or the key to the sale. If you want to grow a relationship or if you want to go to a new place, the key thing to focus on is the point of conflict. If you can solve that, then you’re going to move forward as a partnership or as a group much, much faster. Until you’ve dealt positively with the conflict, you’ll never actually grow properly and congruently and sustainably.
This all starts with accepting that conflict is present for a reason. You have to face it. You have to name it. When you do all of that, you’re on the way.
There are lots of causes of conflict. It could be a particular personality clash – you’ve just got two different ways of looking at life. It could be a projection. You’ve got something going on within you. You’re not actually aware of that and you’re dumping it. You are projecting.
You might just find in life that you’re frustrated with something else in life. You’re angry at something. Maybe you got out for a duck playing cricket on the weekend and you come home and you take it out on someone else. There could be some anger from work and you bring it home and anger from home and taking it to work. Sometimes, there really is no conflict other than the fact that you’re bringing the wrong emotional state into something.
Other times, and we think this is the one that really gets people – is when there’s a values conflict of some sort and somebody accuses you of not living up to your values. You will find in those moments that you can explode internally and get very angry, very quickly. It’s harder than ever for you to recover in those moments. This is because values come down to what you hold dear and important in life.
Conflict can also be a real ego thing, where my ego is clashing with yours. It could be an unresolved thing. There’s this pink elephant over in the corner. No one’s prepared to actually look at it.
Or perhaps you’ve got a game plan and that might be a strategy at work or a particular product you’re running or it could be at home, the game plan around who’s going to pick up the kids or what you are going to do for schooling. But you haven’t really agreed; you’re only 50% in agreement, or it just hasn’t been clarified because you’re moving too quickly and you don’t have time. So there’s this assumed game plan, but everyone has different versions of the game plan and then, the roles that are within that are also therefore unclear. One person gets upset, when you don’t do the thing that they were expecting you to do. However, you didn’t even know that that’s what you’re meant to say.
In all the things we actually do, there are so often two options: fight and flight. Now flight can take a million forms. Pricey is great at just avoiding things. In fact, people who know Pricey often laugh because they all know that he so often does not return calls or takes a long time to – or does not return the email; this is classic avoidance – classic flight; and it only makes matters worse.
People react in different ways to conflict. Some do that classic avoidance, some are passive-aggressive, some give up, others blame, dump on the other, react or project. There are all these ways you can do it.
When Greg was younger he really found conflict very difficult and was exactly like Pricey. Greg was a very big avoider. It took some hard knocks from people giving him hard feedback that he had to take on board. And you know what? Sometimes conflict can be good.
What Greg learned to do was to reframe the situation. Reframing makes things so much better. In this podcast, we want to talk you through a framework that we now use that has turned two guys that really didn’t like conflict into two guys that are now not too bad at handling it.
One thing that we have learned is that when you actually embrace conflict and face it, it’s not the big ogre you thought it was. In fact, we wouldn’t say we look forward to conflict but now we have reframed it and see it as an opportunity. Here’s the key thing. In life, if you’re trying to go to a new level as an individual, to grow yourself, expand and change.
What that means is your roles and different things change. The way you approach work changes and you know what? You’re the only person that’s making that change and everyone else is watching the goalposts shift as you expect more of yourself or others, but sometimes they haven’t bought into that. When you’re changing or when you’re leading a team, if you want to take them to do some transformation or something, you’re absolutely guaranteed a conflict.
So what you need to do now is accept that and go, right, okay, that’s the bit that I’ve just got to get right. Have that discussion, here’s what we’re going to say first of all, step back – and this is the very first step in the framework.
Just stop for a minute, and if you need to reset do so. You need to be in the right emotional state to go into conflict. Stepping back, for every person, takes a different form. For some, it’s going for a walk. They might go for a run, they do a session in the gym, they go out bush. But, what we’re doing is we’re becoming more and more aware. The bigger the conflict, the deeper their level of awareness needs to be.
Particularly if something’s quite emotive, you may need to do something quite physical. Go to the gym or do a very hard workout to just get all of that anger and aggression out. And then once that’s done, you almost invariably have this sense of calm afterwards. This physical work is a form of re-setting.
Once this is done you are now more ready to reflect – you might meditate on the issue. The whole idea of stepping back is to reset yourself and to gain clarity and balance. In the re-setting, in the stepping back, you are more able to name that which is true for you, what’s really going on. By doing so, you will discover humility.
You need to be sitting there quietly and calmly and saying, “Okay right, I’ve now reset myself so I can look at the challenge in front of me.” In that space, there’s that beautiful space where we can say, “I’m a part of this. I own a bit of this too. It isn’t just a totally one-way thing.”
And that is a beautiful space when you can say, “I am actually a player making moves that affect others here.” And that leads to our third step. There’s a sense of courage. Deliberately stepping back into this space in a positive, creative way. There is a wisdom here within you and the other. You’re both going to come out from this space stronger.
Even if you didn’t do any of the rest of the steps, if you stopped, got the emotion out of it for a minute, reset yourself, then went courage, wisdom. If you just did those three things, you’ll find nearly all conflict will immediately change its dynamic. It will go from being a really negative thing to being actually a process. You just need to go through the steps one-by-one.
From that space, you’ve got to have a sense of a goal. Where do I want to be now? What would you like to feel? What do I want to do? What is my outcome?
Ask yourself, what do I want people to think, feel and do at the end of this discussion or end of this interaction? Because that’s really important.
And if in facing the conflict that outcome can change to become a ‘we’ outcome – a shared outcome for both, we are looking good.
But then you’ve got to go back to the why are you in this situation or what is the root cause? We spoke about things like, is there a game plan or anger or pink elephant or roles or values, whatever it is. What is that root cause for this conflict?
That space of asking why, what is its cause? That requires you to show courage. You’ve also got to be very humble there, because you can be part of that. For example, you might have rushed in a bit too fast. You might be holding something a bit too tightly. What is the cause and I’ve got to be open and I’ve got to be humble about that.
Those first five steps bring us to the end of the part that you can do on your own. Now the conflict, to resolve conflict, you’ve got to involve at least one other person. Right?
So now we go to the encounter after doing some pre-work, maybe you’ve been sitting down and journaling on it or thinking about it, now, is your opportunity to go and have a discussion with someone.
The very first thing to do is actually decide when and where is the right time and place to do that. Sometimes it’s okay if it’s to do it at home after dinner, over a glass of wine if it’s at home. Other times, if it’s at work you might want and do it in a formal meeting room, you might want to go for a coffee or go for a beer.
If it’s a mate, might be on the golf course. Wherever works for that situation. You’ve got to find, in this moment, I think you’ve got to think about the right environment, the right timing so that you’re going to get the best outcome.
You’ve got to trust your own self now. And then seek understanding.
You’ve journaled, you’ve talked to a friend, a confidant, you’ve got clarity, you’re now aware and then you sit down.
This is where you start off. You start all conflict discussions with seeking to understand in depth. What’s their side of the story, what’s happened for them, what has it felt like, what’s the experience been of dealing with you?
Because what you’ll find in that moment, nearly always, is that you discover something you did not expect.
Perhaps you did something that wasn’t right or someone else did something that wasn’t right and you think, “Gee, you know what, okay, I could’ve done that better.” In that moment, you seek first to understand and if it’s something where it’s like a performance management issue – they’ve done something wrong – it’s still very important to do that. Because the step after that is then to seek to be understood, where you tell your side of the story and expand their understanding of the impact of their behaviour – or their actions and what’s been going on – on you.
What you’re doing is you’re working together to re-establish trust and work towards a shared goal. “Where do we want to be?” The more you can become aware of that and move towards it the better. You’ll find that when you’re doing that type of thing (getting shared understanding and respect), you will listen more carefully in the encounter for the points of agreement.
Then you name those shared things. “Hey, you and I share this. You and I are both aiming to achieve the same thing but we are just getting distracted or going about it in different ways.”
You find when you’ve got those points of agreement, you begin to build a sense of trust.
At that moment when you’ve sought to understand and then to be understood and then clarifying the goal, what you then do is you name the root cause. “Oh, I thought this was going to happen in the game plan, and you thought this. Oh, you didn’t realise you were conflicting one of my core values. Oh, okay, I was really angry over here. I brought it in here. And that little thing that I said, which I didn’t even realise, has caused you a lot of stress.”
Once you’ve done that, the next step after that is to apologise, if it’s your turn to or what you should do. That apology could be a simple thing. “Hey, I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of this”. It’s not a big, big deal and it’s a genuine link, but it must be real, it must be a really authentic thing.
Hopefully, some resolution has been achieved and you must be following your intuition at this point. Are they in agreement? Is there rapport? Are you back in a better place with that individual?
If you are sitting there and you’re looking across the table or wherever you are, and you can sense a coldness that they have not bought into this, there is still something that has not been touched.
At that moment, I think then if you’re not getting any further, you’ve got to reach into their soul. But only if you want to salvage this relationship.
Say, “Hey, something’s still isn’t right. What’s going on, for you, now?”
This is where timing is so important. Because, sometimes if conflict has hurt one person significantly. They’re going to need some time to just get this out of their system and it might be that time to go, “Let’s just go and spend a few hours or few days apart and come back and chat in a few days.” Because there can be so much emotional turmoil. Particularly if it’s been a very close relationship and there’s been conflict.
People need time to just decompress, to think about what’s been said. Maybe you’ve said something totally unexpected in that meeting. Maybe they said something to you unexpected. Maybe the dynamic of the relationship of the future is now gonna have a very different form and people need to consider that in more depth. So depending on the extent of the conflict, there’s a moment there and some time and you need to follow your gut and you need to say, “Right, okay, in some cases, let’s move on.”
Now we need to know how to resolve the conflict. What is the new agreement? “Apologies mate.” Warm cuddles, handshakes etc. Then clarity on the roles, standards and the game plan.
Other times it might simply be that we need a bit of time and then, “I’ll see you again soon.”
Sometimes the other may not want resolution. Of course, we’ve always got that thing that happens where for some reason the other may not want resolution. And we know that can be a difficult space, but if you’ve done all you can, there sometimes comes a time when you have to walk away from this. You’ve done your best, you’ve really tried, you’ve tried to do all the steps we’ve said and if they are choosing not to engage, okay. It’s sad but you may have to just walk away.
You want to be in a position where you feel like you’ve done everything you can. But you’re walking away and you’ve captured the lesson and its wisdom. You’re moving away from this.
This is a powerful lesson. Greg ran a workshop for a global oil company once. They had a team here in Australia and their sales business development team was in major conflict. They hated each other. These were the words given to Greg in the brief: “We’ve got to solve the relationships in this room or we’re going to go under.”
They went away for a two day retreat. When they turned up in the morning, the very first morning, there was a room just for all the tea and the coffee set up, a couple of little bites to eat and Greg shut the doors to the meeting room. When they were starting, Greg said, “Okay, everyone just get in a circle here to begin with. We’re going to create this circle of love.” Which to them was a real pattern interrupt because there was no love in the room.
And Greg said, “Okay, I’ll go. I know there’s been some bad things happening in this team. I know there’s been some conflict, there’s been some anger, there’s been arguments, it’s all happened. It’s been described to me. I know what’s going on. So what we need to do now, before we go in there, is acknowledge the past, because inside that room is a vision for the future. Out here is the past and we must resolve that if we’re going to do anything in there that’s worthwhile doing”. So Greg said, “Anybody in this circle, now, can tell a story about something that happened that really frustrated, angered them, that was wrong. But when you say that, you must take it and put it in the middle of the circle, you put it on the ground, then you’ve got to tell people what the lesson was from it”.
Greg said, “Anyone want to start?”
The top dog kicks off, Brian. He goes, “Okay, I’ll go first”. And he said, “Well, there was this big contract we lost in Bundaberg because this other company stepped out and we should have had it, but we didn’t. We didn’t get it. And that really, really pissed me off because it would have got all our targets sorted.”
“Alright, okay, that’s cool”, I said, “What’s the lesson?” And he goes, “Well, we have to work together when those moments arrive”. I go, “Okay, that’s the lesson – we’ve got to work together”. And then, it didn’t come immediately, but after three or four of these happened, the flood gates opened. And all these things, all the elephants in the room, there wasn’t one pink elephant, there was a herd of elephants and they dropped them all in the thing. And there’s all these lessons. And so the elephants became little mice and the whole group dynamic changed.
All because of the power of the lesson.
The number of times, particularly with us men, where we may not seek this encounter at the direct level, but when we talk around things, underneath, and inbetween, the words we’re actually saying are, “I’m sorry there”. And we often do it in a bit of an indirect way and that is okay. Provided it’s done. After we’ve encountered, after we’ve come to a point of wisdom and we’re moving forward. Sometimes we’ve just got to have a bit of a celebration of it. It could be that you go for a beer with that guy, so you’re going Friday afternoon, you’ve done the hard work, you’re not talking about it. You’re just having a beer and you’re talking about something else, but you have to ritualize it a bit. You’ve done the work. You’re moving on.
Reinforce the things that make that relationship great. Maybe just getting on and talk a bit about the footy. Maybe you and your partner have got to go into the wine cellar or whatever you’ve got and find the best bottle of cask wine you can get. Just get it out and have a glass of wine and say, “Right, let’s move on”.
Think then, even in those moments, celebrate and remember what it is you’re trying to achieve as a partnership overall. Not just on this one little topic. What are you guys trying to do? What’s a relationship about and what’s the future hold and remember the good things because that will be what you’re together for in the first place.
Timing as we have said is so important. How often and you are angry, all fired up, quite hurt and you send off an angry email. Pricey was living in a community once and one of the guys in the community was a great guy, but he’d come in the morning and say, “I sent them a rocket last night (to the leadership)”. So Pricey would often find himself saying, “Mate, write the email – sure, but put it into drafts and only send it when you have calmed down! Sit on it!” Perhaps never send it!
In general – it is better to talk through an issue personally than to hide behind an email; emails can be read is so many ways that are not what was intended. The thing about sending an email, particularly if you send a rocket late at night is, when do people read it? When they’re in bed, probably before they get out of bed, they roll over, pick up their phone before they go to bed and they’re sitting there in the sanctity of their home with their loved ones and you’ve sent them a rocket. One thing is certain – you won’t be the flavour of the month when you send that. All they’re thinking is, “Dickhead.”
Time is such an important thing, but on the other hand, we don’t avoid and churn over and over something and allow it to simmer. This little issue becomes a bigger and bigger issue and then one day go dump in a huge, huge way.
If you’re going through life going, “Poor me, poor me. Pricey’s got life tough”. Get over it, legend.
Grego has had the pleasure of working with a lot of big hitters and the one thing that he sees as a core pattern of theirs is they hunt for conflict in their business or in their relationships, in their teams, so that they can overcome it. They look for those points of conflict as a habit. They have as many of those conversations, as quickly as possible to reset the game plan, the standards, the behaviours. They’re constantly getting everyone on the same page at home and at work.
The more you do that, the more harmony, more fluidity you’ve got in all your relationships. Imagine you compare that to someone who avoids all those. Where all you’ve got is tension and the things that are unsaid, that could go unsaid forever. Say it.
Avoidance never, ever, never, ever actually works. See this conflict as the space where you’re going to grow, you’re going to become stronger. You’re gonna know thyself, you’re gonna grow thyself. You’re gonna come out stronger.
If you want to be a true universal man – and this is a core thing – you have to get good at having good conversations and solving conflict. It’s a muscle that needs to consistently be worked and when you get it right, there is great opportunity.
Grego and Pricey